11 Questions: Morgan Lanza

Interview by Brent Cole

Photo by Jonathan Williams

I’m sure I had contact with Morgan Lanza before, but it wasn’t until she and her mom opened Tillie Lace Gallery last year and Morgan began sending me press releases that I realized I was dealing with someone special. Every time I said we’d make mention of the gallery or an event, she’d say thank you. These days, a simple thank you oftentimes is hard to come by. The more I talked to Morgan, the more I realized she was not only appreciative and polite, but passionate about what she does and about being a positive voice in the local music and arts community. She has a seemingly endless well of energy and it’s always genuinely positive, a wonderful role model not only for the girls involved at the Bellingham Girls Rock Camp (of which she is the executive director), but for the scene at large. Lofty praise, sure… but, Morgan deserves it. And with that, this month’s 11 questions subject, Morgan Lanza.


Who are you and where did you come from? Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Morgan and I’m an artist and an entrepreneur. I was born in Paris, France. My dad passed away when I was a baby, so it’s always just been me and my mom. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, from New York to New Mexico and all over Washington State, until we finally settled in Seattle when I was 9-years-old. I consider the 206 my hometown. I currently live in beautiful Bellingham, WA with my mom, Cooper Lanza, and our dogs, Daisy Mae and Andre.

I graduated from Western Washington University in 2015 with a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Fairhaven College. My concentration is titled, “Music & Society: The Social Context of the Performing Arts and Entrepreneurship.” Basically I combined all my training in theatre, dance, and music with my studies in social justice and nonprofit arts management. I wear a lot of different hats!

While I was in school, I started organizing Bellingham Girls Rock Camp (BGRC), a rock-n-roll themed summer day camp for girls. I currently serve as the Executive Director of the organization, which officially became a 501C3 nonprofit last year. In April 2015, my mom and I opened Tillie Lace Gallery and School of Fine Art– a multi-faceted art space that serves as a gallery, school of  fine art, and studio for music and the performing arts. We host live music, teach voice lessons, and offer tap dance classes and yoga. Tillie Lace will soon be known as Cooper Lanza Gallery.


If you could name one thing you love most about working with the Bellingham Girls Rock Camp, what would it be? 

Definitely the community — both locally and globally. Girls Rock Camp isn’t exclusive to Bellingham; we’re part of an international movement, which is super exciting! I went to the international Girls Rock Camp Alliance (GRCA) conference last year for the first time and it was so inspiring to meet folks from all over the world who are working in solidarity toward a shared vision. GRCA’s mission statement describes what all of our programs are about: “Girls Rock Camps help girls build self-esteem and find their voices through unique programming that combines music education and performance, empowerment and social justice workshops, positive role models, and collaboration and leadership skill building. The GRCA supports camps around the globe in this mission.”


You are, without a doubt, one of the most positive people I’ve met in the Bellingham music scene. How do you view the importance of having a positive outlook and using positive words in your day to day life? 

I think I’ve always been somewhat of an idealist, but I’m also realistic about the fact that life can be extremely difficult at times. My mom says I’ve always tried to stay positive in the face of adversity and been determined to accomplish my goals despite obstacles. I think part of the reason I seem positive is because I’m always expressing gratitude and telling people I appreciate them by saying, “You rock!” This is something I learned through Girls Rock Camp culture. There’s a rule at camp that’s “No I’m sorrys, only I rocks,” so whenever I have the urge to apologize for something I don’t need to be sorry for,  or when someone else does, I say, “I rock” or, “you rock!” Whenever I learn that a word is problematic or harmful to someone or to a group of people, I work to consciously eliminate it from my vocabulary. I think that’s been a positive shift: I’ve become intentional about the words that I use.


You and your mom run Tillie Lace Gallery. What is the one personality trait of your mom that inspires you the most? 

Well, I think it’s impossible to isolate aspects of our personality because we’re all complex beings. My mom has shown me that I can be soft and strong, tough and sensitive. She taught me to always be unapologetically myself by staying true to who I am and doing what I love.


Please give us your top five desert island classics (all time favorite records).

*Lauryn Hill – “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”

*Amy Winehouse – “Frank”

*Hiatus Kaiyote – “Choose Your Weapon”

*Erykah Badu – “Baduizm”

*Billie Holiday – any record, because  she’s phenomenal.

If you asked me five years ago or five years from now this would probably be a very different list. But right now these are the records I could listen to for the rest of forever. There is so much music I would miss though. Thank goodness it’s a hypothetical question!


Where do you see yourself in five years? 

I’ll have my Master’s in something related to the arts and entrepreneurship. I’ll probably still be managing Cooper Lanza Gallery and working with Girls Rock Camp — I feel that no matter where I go, I’ll always be a part of the Girls Rock Camp community. I’ll be living with my mom and our dogs, continuing to perform on stage and write original music. I’d love to go on a tour in the next five years. We’ll have to wait and see!


It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon, what are you doing? 

Probably working at the gallery, or prepping for a performance. If I’ve got the day off (which is never) then I’m  hanging with my besties! Or I’m in bed (which is often).


What was the last impactful book you read and what made it so special to you? 

As per the recommendation of the internet, I spent the last year or so reading only books by authors of color, which was an overall very impactful experience. It was special because I learned about myself through interrogating and challenging my own perspective. I just finished reading “Kindred” by Octavia Butler. Octavia Butler is one of the most influential writers in the field of fantasy and sci-fi. She is the godmother of Afrofuturism!


If you could change one thing about the Bellingham music community, what would it be and why? 

I would change the demographics of the scene and who is represented in the mainstream, because right now it is dominated by white men. But this isn’t just in Bellingham. This is something I would change about the entire music industry. There needs to be more space for womxn, queer and Black folks, people of color, and intersectional identities. We’ve been out here, pioneers in the arts and science since the beginning, but we hardly get recognized or remembered by history. That’s why at Girls Rock Camp we teach Rock-N-Roll HERstory and talk about influential artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Big Mama Thornton; groups like The International Sweethearts of Rhythm; forgotten studio musicians like Mary Clayton and Carol Kaye, and pioneering womxn in Hip Hop like Sylvia Robinson. We also talk about contemporary artists and introduce the campers to media literacy. It’s important that we have diverse representation in music because you can’t be what you can’t see. Marian Wright Edelman said that.


What do you think is the most important thing a participant in the BGRC can take away from their experience? 

The confidence to be yourself and do what you love. Because YOU ROCK and are a unique individual. There is no one like you in the whole world and your voice matters. What you have to say is important and deserves to be heard. You’ll learn about working as a team. We talk a lot about the relationship between conflict and needs, and how to communicate about our needs with honesty and respect. You’ll also walk away with the tools to think critically about social justice issues and analyze the media we make and consume.


Any last thoughts? 

If you want to talk more about anything I’ve discussed in these 11 Questions, please reach out to me at info@bgrc.org. Thank you so much for this opportunity — YOU ROCK!!