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creative:impact - Ann Arbor’s NOW Studios is megaphone for the margins

NOW Studios | expressyouryes.com
NOW Studios logo

NOW Studios offers fearless dreamers a place to create atypical and innovate art while also building community through social innovation. Meet Petals Sandcastle, the illuminating innovator behind NOW Studios, when he joins Deb Polich of Creative Washtenaw and your host for this installment of "creative:impact."

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

David Fair | 89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


  • We're led by Love. And dedicated to exploring ways to create a society based on Love rather than Profit. Based on radically-free, heart-centered expression. Playful, Bold, Enchanting, Vibrant.
  • NOW comes with an implicit invitation to be curious. Offers a non-linear, beyond-the-binary cosmic dressing room to unzip our spines and step out. Recast the movie, edit the script.
  • By ritually building an atmosphere of creation and chaos exploration, novel solutions and broad empathy can be fostered. We're most comfortable at the cutting edge of possibility, where math is bent.
  • We are a megaphone for the margins. Social Scientists experimenting at the edges of the norm, exploring outside the rubric, bridging the world of tomorrow with the realities of today. Nonviolently shaking society and institution from its collective slumber, safely taking us outside our comfort.
  • We’re eager to work with other fearless dreamers dedicated to building community, social innovation & introspection, activism, creating atypical content, making art, sharing ideas & resources, elevating marginalized perspectives, hosting events, reducing waste, and incubating a radically better nonviolent tomorrow full of consciousness, equity, and Empowerment For All. Is this you? Are you ready to rocket launch the love revolution?
  • Reach out! Join our incubator for Big Ideas & Good Trouble. Visit our fully-loaded technicolor studio ready for ACTivism, performing arts, nightlife, classes, group gatherings, pop-ups, podcasts, painting, dancing, filming and more. It’s time to tinker with the algorithms of the universe. If not NOW, when? If not us, who?


aka Ricky Herbert
Founder & CEO

NOW Studios | expressyouryes.com
Petals Sandcastle

Petals sandcastle, (they/them) is the founder of Express Your Yes Foundation and NOW Studios & a former inner-city high school teacher in NYC. After leaving the classroom they traveled the world, studying, exploring, witnessing, creating, and renegotiating their Why for being alive.

Petals Sandcastle | NOW Studios
Petals Sandcastle

This prompted them to open Lampshade, a pick-your-price, community-meet-commodity café, performance venue, bookshop, gallery, and communal incubation space for the love revolution. Watch a segment on the project from Channel 4 News.

Back when they still believed in the system, Petals was a Campaign Coordinator for Organizing For America, a massive mobilizing machine originally designed to get President Obama reelected.

Petals is a queer-vegan-yogi writer, plus director, producer, performer, dreamer, activist and multimodal artist who loves to put on a show. They're a serial entrepreneur addicted to renovating space; and a social spiritual scientist interested in the math of a miracle, practical alchemy, and using khaki to make bon fires.

Petals is also a freelance photographer, picaro philosopher, radical dreamer, & self-taught painter with over 300 original works which can be found in the shop. They are also a competitive poker player, pool player and bowler.

Petals says, “Unzip your spine and step out. Recast the movie, edit the script. embody the fantasy & get what you came for. Live all the lives in this one in case this is it. Midwife your own fairytale & above all, Get Said!”

Petals is an alum of The University of Michigan and City College of New York and also has a Ph.D. in pleasure-pursuit, with a concentration in enjoyment, from The School of Life—and is available for private sessions.


NOW Studios
NOW Studios Team
NOW Studios Mission
Petition: "Ask Ann Arbor City Council to Consider Arts Proposals for ARPA Funds"
Express Your Yes Foundation Proposal for American Rescue Plan Act Funds
American Rescue Plan of 2021
ARPA Funding Proposal
City of Ann Arbor American Rescue Plan Funding Page
Creative Washtenaw Advocacy Page


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on WEMU 1891 FM. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw NPR Creative Impact Host. Thank you for listening every week as we welcome creative guests and explore how their creative businesses, product programs and services impact and add to Washtenaw County's quality of life, place and economy. Petals Sandcastle describes themselves as queer vegan yoga writer, a producer, a director, a performer, a dreamer, an "artivist" and a multimodal artist who loves to put on a show. Petals is also a whirlwind of possibility. I can't wait for this conversation. Welcome to creative:impact, Petals.

Petals Sandcastle: Hello. Thank you so, so much for having me.

Deb Polich: Hey, so that's quite a description to unpack. I didn't even get to mention that you are the founder of Express Your Yes Foundation and NOW Studios in Ann Arbor. If you can, give us a short story, you know, the short version of what led you to where you are now.
Petals Sandcastle: Um, okay, uh, let me really quickly, so I graduated from U of M, and I became a high school teacher in New York City. And it was there that kind of really started to reconcile with your privilege and with race and just a lot of things that sort of the white curtain had in front of me. And so I resigned in 2008 and kind of have spent the last 15 years just exploring creativity and spirituality and possibility and using, you know, art and politics. And then that sort of birthed our most latest project, which is a 501c3, Express Your Yes Foundation, and a brick and mortar studio in downtown in Ann Arbor called NOW Studios.

Deb Polich: So, I've visited NOW Studios and, you know, I found it to be a really welcoming space for everyone and regardless of their background or how they identify. How would you describe it to our listeners if they were to be walking inside? 

NOW Studios | expressyouryes.com
NOW Studios
NOW Studios Meditation Flyer

Petals Sandcastle: Kind of down the rabbit hole with Alice? A little bit. I mean, on paper, you know, it's a nonprofit political playhouse. It's a venue. It's a multi-modal production company. It's an immersive gallery. There's over 300 original works of art. We're a dojo temple. You know, we do guided meditation and yoga. We're a communal meeting place. We do café sessions and open studio and live mics and jams and podcasts. You know, we're a thought closet and a social lab. Um, we're kind of all over the place, you know? It's kind of a full chakra-buzzing mind body and spirit left brain, right brain, you know, it's sort of fusion of all of it.
Deb Polich: And they say, you can't be all things to everyone, and here you're doing it.

Petals Sandcastle: Live! It's live!

NOW Studios | expressyouryes.com
NOW Studios Café Study Session Flyer

Deb Polich: Right. Right. Why is a space like this so important? And, dare I say, necessary?

Petals Sandcastle: Yeah, I mean, look. I don't want to be a Debbie Downer, but--

Deb Polich: A Debbie Downer?

Petals Sandcastle: Oh my gosh, a little jab. Oh my God. It's let's... Look. Two thirds of Americans readily admit to being depressed. These are just the facts. You know, thousands of anti-depressants are written. Prescriptions are written for babies under the age of one. You know, these are just facts. And so, to me, it feels like, you know, that creativity is the opposite of destruction. You know, it's the kryptonite for destruction. And so, unshackling all of the portals of creativity. You know, we think of art sometimes as a two-dimensional thing like, "Oh, the art, you know that mural on the wall." But really, it's an entire all-encompassing process of the transmutation of grease into gasoline. You know, it's taking our insides and exploring them and sharing them with each other. And I think that that really is the answer to getting us towards world peace or getting us towards a more equitable, socially just, conscious planet. I think, for me, spaces like this are there what we need now more than ever. I mean, we certainly need them more than a trillion dollar war budget.

Deb Polich: So, you know, much of our society is catching up with what NOW Studio embodies: diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and justice. And if I take an honest scan of art and cultural institutions, what should they do to actually walk the walk rather than just talking and to actually catch up?

Petals Sandcastle: Yeah, I think ..look, I think that as artists, we're actually social scientists, you know? We're experimenting at the edges of the norm. You know, we're exploring outside of the rubric. You know, our job as a creative and creative nonprofits is to bridge the world of tomorrow with the realities of today. You know, it's our job to nonviolently shake society and institution. And it's very easy to get into a collective slumber and kind of normalize and reinforce each other. I don't wanna say bad behaviors, but our ability, our privilege, to kind of go a lot lower than a lot of people would like to be happening. You know, the ability to go slow, like the bureaucratic ability of Congress to go slow, it's a privilege. And it's one that not everyone has. And so, I think arts orgs have a real opportunity. I think people want more authenticity. I don't think people want the cookie cutter rubric. And so, I think a lot of orgs are afraid of rocking the boat because they, you know, they want the funding, they want whatever sort of connections they have. It's very scary to speak the truth. It's very scary to speak the truth to power, especially want to get a little bit of that power.

Petals Sandcastle | NOW Studios
Working at NOW Studios

Deb Polich: And we'll get to that. We'll get to that in a second about that power. Eighty nine one WEMU creative impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and Petals Sandcastle is my guest. So, Petals, you and your mates are artivists. I like that conjunction of art and activist.

Petals Sandcastle: Right.

Deb Polich: And that truth to power you just mentioned. I'd like to dig down to that just a little bit. The city of Ann Arbor recently received 24 million dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA. And these funds are supposed to be spent on fighting the pandemic and supporting families and businesses struggling with public health and economic impacts, to also maintain vital public services, and to also build a strong, resilient, and equitable recovery. You know, creative:impact listeners have heard repeatedly the devastation that the arts and creative industries have suffered since the beginning of the pandemic and every surge since. NOW Studios is actively working to persuade Ann Arbor City Hall that investing a portion of this fund in Ann Arbor's arts and creative industries is important. And under full disclosure, Creative Washtenaw is right there, too. Why do you think it's critical that the city of Ann Arbor and other municipalities, for that matter, expand ARPA funds and invest them in arts and creativity?

Petals Sandcastle: Well, I mean, if you read the nuts and bolts of this proposal, there's a lot of commentary about allocating the money to those hardest hit. And I think that while projects like solar panels on the fire department roof are valid and important, for me, it's hard to reconcile this precious $24 million fund that, to me, seems obvious that it should be used for arts and creativity and mental health and mental wellness and spirituality as well, yoga and meditation, I think that, you know, not everyone can afford $40 yoga or $45 pottery, and it's proven. I mean, the science is irrefutable. That creation, that getting it out, that getting said, that being among peers and years to process what you're experiencing. I mean, I think we're all going through an incredible collective trauma together with not just with the pandemic, but also the isolation and just the amping up of the corporate regime. And so, I think that this is a, I mean, this is a very real, amazing opportunity for them to double down and to support with actual finance. I mean, a couple of million dollars for local creativity. That has that has astronomical implications, but that has implications for the bottom line of our of our of our economy as well, right?

Deb Polich: Absolutely.

Petals Sandcastle: There's jobs at stake. There's healing at stake. There's, you know, art for all is not, you know, this is not a cheesy slogan.

Deb Polich: So, you know, how do I how do people get involved and to support this position? You know, we've got until really, literally, 2024 to submit a spending plan. And so, how would you recommend people get involved and to voice their opinion about the importance of this? And we've only got a couple of minutes left. 

Petals Sandcastle: Okay. Well, first of all, I would say that following what you're up to with Creative Washtenaw, getting on your newsletter, becoming a member, I just want to really quickly thank you so much. You've provided, you know, COVID relief for us. You provided guidance for us. You just gave me a $5000 grant proposal to look up to get my teeth fixed. So, I just want to say that there are a lot of resources. Also, ours, our website, expressyouryes.com. There's a link to a petition. We've between papers, signatures and digital signatures. We're up to 150 signatures in just a few days. And so, people can read our proposal, read other proposals. There's a survey you can take. The city is actually distributed a survey. Unfortunately, that survey has yet again omitted any creative proposals. But there is one little spot on the second page where you can rank your choices. And so, you can put creative funds towards the top. But most importantly, on the third page of that survey, there's a little text box, and that's where you can say, you know, to me, it seems the survey is biased. It feels rushed. And so, I think making the city know. Emailing the city, I think, is rescue funds at A2 dot gov.

Deb Polich: So, Petals, we've got a minute left. I'd love to do what you do best. Have you do what you do best. And that is, you know, wrap up and give us something inspirational to take out and carry with us for the rest of the day.

Petals Sandcastle: Absolutely. Like I said again, thank you. Um, I think that there's inherent uncertainty to reality and certainly inherent uncertainty in art and exploring nature. And I think that we have an opportunity to create more creative solutions and be open to more new ideas and explore unusual concepts and experiment and tinker with the math, you know? And so, our organization is 100 percent committed to unshackling creation. You know, grease in the gasoline, you know? Rage into revolution. It feels like it's our time. It feels like we're collectively waking up to something, and we want to step into something. And it's scary. It's scary. And so, our goal and also the goal of what you're up to, is really creating an infrastructure for people to step into and feel empowered to dance against the fascist static.

Friends of NOW Studios

Deb Polich: Let me say. That's Petals Sandcastle, the illuminating and impassioned impresario behind NOW Studios. For more information about Petals and the work of NOW studios, visit WEMU dot org. And please join me next week with another creative Washtenaw guest. I'm Deb Polich, President and CEO. And this is your community NPR Radio Station. Eighty nine one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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