Ann Arbor’s Express Your Yes Foundation Celebrates Marginalized Groups

Express Your Yes Foundation presented by NOW Studios is a relatively new Ann Arbor nonprofit with a mission to promote unique artistic expression, healing and unification of all people. Now Studios is located at 715 N. University, Ann Arbor. 

Petals Sandcastle is the founder and self-described “chief headlight” of the foundation.

“It’s been three years since we have been a nonprofit, but the work started back in our Lampshade Cafe days in 2015, which is now Ziggy’s in Ypsilanti, which is where I first started flirting with a lot of these concepts,” Sandcastle said.

Sandcastle is a former teacher with a history of helping others and wants to continue that calling in a different way in their current role.

“In 2008 I resigned from inner-city high school teacher in New York City because the world stopped making sense,” Sandcastle said. “It was there that the privileged white curtain was really pulled from my face. The system is designed to destroy lives and hope and momentum in the margins. That doesn’t sit right. The house is on fire and my people are being burned at the stake.”

Sandcastle said the artistic and healing philosophies and ideas promoted in the “YES Foundation” include: “community meet commodity”, “radically free events and space”, “pick-your-price”, “multi-modal neutral third spaces,” and more.

Sandcastle hopes to be inclusive and joyful to encourage “all the other in the same space to dig each others’ groove” and also to grant people “space to gather and dream and explore and create and express.”

All of this is to be done in a freeing manner so as to promote open expression “without the constant need to give money to do it,” Sandcastle said. 

In short, space, time, healing, and affirmation are a large part of what the Express Your Yes Foundation offers, which can be healing for all, but especially for those who are marginalized.

“Art is therapy,” Sandcastle said. “Art saves lives. Getting it out is very important. Every 40 seconds someone takes their own life in this country. We’re all aching but we don’t all have space to express that ache and transmute the grief into gasoline for a brighter blaze.“

According to the Trever Project, LGBTQ Youth (13-24) are more at risk of suicide. The Trevor Project estimates that greater than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth seriously consider suicide every year in the United States. Furthermore, at least one LGBTQ youth attempts suicide every 45 seconds. 

The Yes Foundation reaches out to all marginalized people, who generally face greater hardship, prejudice, and even violence.

“We hired over 70 marginalized artists during our three-day invasion of Ann Arbor SummerFest,” Sandcastle said. “And we paid them well. The goal is to set new precedents here. We know marginalized creatives generate the lion’s share of art and magic in town and yet the system is so good at taking from them without proper compensation. We forget that artists have dreams and hopes and bills and teeth that need dental work just like everybody else.”

The marginalized artists include LGBTQ members, people of color, and the economically disadvantaged, among others.

“The queer and trans community are really so limited in the amount of safe spaces to come together in our full authenticity without fear,” Sandcastle said. “Also neurodivergent people, who just don’t think and behave the way normative society tells us we should. “

Some widely known examples of neurodivergence include autism, Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and ADHD, but there are many others.

“We also serve the poor,” Sandcastle said. “We all want to be welcome in spaces outside of our home/work/school/shelter. That is difficult in a city where a $20 salad is normal.”

The Yes Foundation’s services vary.

“We’ve hosted trans film festivals, drag shows, concerts, theater, yoga, meditation, poetry events, art classes, open studio space, community jams, creative sessions, group therapy, group visioning, and playtime,” Sandcastle said.

Sandcastle wants to facilitate affirming people’s lives and bringing more hope and acceptance to the mainstream.

“One main way we help is simply to give people keys to the studio, with 24/7 access and as many resources we have available for them to realize their own dreams,” Sandcastle said. “Dozens and dozens of new happenings and events have been hosted by marginalized creatives just looking for some space and time and belief to get started!”

In the past twelve months, they’ve hosted over 100 free events including spirituality/philosophy groups, guided meditation, and dance therapy as well as partnering with major organizations like the University Musical Society.

Funding for this nonprofit has always been a struggle, but they continue to provide services and space for the marginalized and for healing.

“In the beginning, I sold my art to keep the doors open,” Sandcastle said.

And fundraising is always ongoing.

“We rely on donations and partnerships and the occasional grant money,” Sandcastle said. “We’re hoping to hire a development director/ fundraiser soon to really leverage our 501c3 nonprofit status. There is so much grant money but we’re so busy in the trenches with our people that fundraising is always the hard part.”

Photo provided by Express Your Yes Foundation.

In the meantime, Sandcastle hopes to help, heal, and celebrate those who most need it—which according to them, is all of us. Sandcastle remains hopeful for the future.

“My soul tells me that stats and facts and shame and blame and division will not get us closer to the equitable joyous co-liberated conscious place we all dream of,” Sandcastle said. “My soul tells me only art and magic and flow and love and creativity and radical devotion to play and possibility can do that.

Contribute to the foundation here. 734-274-9142.

+ posts

Donna Marie Iadipaolo is a writer, journalist, and State of Michigan certified teacher, since 1990. She has written for national publications like The Village Voice, Ear Magazine of New Music, Insurance & Technology, and TheStreet.
She is now writing locally for many publications, including Current Magazine, Ann Arbor Family, and the Ann Arbor Independent. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she graduated with an honors bachelor’s degree and three teacher certificate majors: mathematics, social sciences, English. She also earned three graduate degrees in Master of Science, Master of Arts, and Education Specialist Degree.