Queer and Black artists take spotlight in "Ann Arbor is Burning" takeover of Ann Arbor Summer Fest

The Express Your Yes Foundation at NOW Studios will take over the Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) for three nights this season, spotlighting queer and Black performers in a series titled “Ann Arbor is Burning: A Celebration of Radical Queer Imagination."

The festival will kick off with an Express Your Yes takeover on June 9, with two more takeovers to follow on June 15 and June 20. All events will be free. Express Your Yes co-founder and CEO Petals Sandcastle describes the takeover as an opportunity to bring attendees from diverse lived experiences together to “have deep and meaningful engagement across divides.”

“The Ann Arbor Summer Festival has never given full production to an outside organization,” Sandcastle says. “They’ll let a group activate a tent, but they’ve never surrendered all of the festival. We want to create a safe space to express creativity and get everyone vibing on a similar frequency.”

Ann Arbor is Burning’s kickoff event will be “Manifestos of Love” on June 9. The event will include a free silent disco where participants will receive headphones to collectively listen to a live music and poetry set in a co-created space. Other activities such as tarot reading, massage therapy, and drag performances will also take place.

“The mission is to blend art and activism,” Sandcastle says. “A lot of our community is LGBTQ, BIPOC, neurodivergent, artists, and the whole world is endlessly harsh on these communities. We want to educate and create this thick mutual aid network of resources for these communities.”

Other Ann Arbor is Burning events include Dreamspace on June 15, a “multimodal, multisensory collaborative installation featuring pairs of Michigan artists and organizations who are pillars of intersectional justice." Attendees that evening will be able to view art pieces and sculptures and enjoy a free vegan buffet provided by local restaurants. A meeting of Express Your Yes' Community Council on June 20 will focus on the need for more “neutral third spaces” in the community where individuals can commune and have discussions in a safe environment.

In addition to these events, Ann Arbor Is Burning will also feature performances on the A2SF stages and the Power Center lawn. On June 15, musical performances by Detroit R&B artist Supercoolwicked and Detroit electronic musician and DJ SABETYE will take place at the Rackham stage, while harpist Ahya Simone will perform at the Grove stage. Detroit’s Shua Group, a movement and performance group, will host “Retreat: Move/Play” on June 15 at the Power Center lawn, where participants can experience guided movement and play. 

Sandcastle feels that while there are many well-meaning individuals and groups making political decisions for Ann Arbor, progress tends to move slowly due to normative thinking. They hope the takeover will help amplify marginalized voices and enable them to enact real change in the community.

“We want to create a sense of immediacy for politicians, and show that marginalized creatives exist beyond the show they perform,” Sandcastle says. 

Ann Arbor is Burning is actively seeking performers, volunteers, and donations. To learn more or donate, visit the Give Butter campaign website for the takeover, or the Express Your Yes website. To learn more about A2SF, visit the festival's website.

Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.

Photo courtesy of Express Your Yes Foundation.
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