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NOW studios gives visitors opportunity to ask questions, explore, experience change and play

Downtown Ann Arbor multi-modal creative space trying to ‘emancipate yes from the clutches of no’

NOW Studios is a multimodal space at 715 N. University Ave. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Unapologetically colorful, bright, dramatic and ‘Out Loud Yes’, NOW studios invites community members to explore reality and say an unfettered “yes” to experiences they might not otherwise have.

“NOW is an epicenter for existential performance art and nonviolent revolution. A content-creation haus, focusing on what’s happening in the margins,” said founder Petals Sandcastle.

The three basement spaces of NOW studios are part working studio, classroom, bohemian cafe, underground theatre, rehearsal studio, yoga and dance studio, live-stream studio set, boutique shop, art therapy space, drag show studio and incubator for big ideas.

Thanks to over 300 original pieces of art, the studios are also a cacophony of immersive color.

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on at NOW.

Owned by Petals and Bubbles Sandcastle, the studios are a springboard for change and to dismantle unproductive mindsets.

A former high school teacher, Petals said that while traveling the world, they found what might be an answer to a lot of problems: Space.

“Colorful, well-equipped space with no time restrictions, with no set mandates: That is what I think everyone is hungry for, even if we don’t know it,” they said.

NOW Studios is a multimodal space at 715 N. University Ave. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

Community members may recognize Petals, previously known as Ricky ‘Lampshade’ Herbert, from their 2016 Cafe Lampshade in Ypsilanti. That space allowed community members to pay their own price and use the space for anything, from music festivals to moth storytelling.

Watch: Live in the D: Cafe Lampshade in Ypsilanti

“We had over 500 performers, comedy to opera, quinceaneras to church. And we were the hub for Bernie Sanders’ campaign. That’s the future. Mindful fusions. The personal is political. Work is play. Community meets commodity. Socialistic capitalism,” Petals said.

“Capitalism only works with a real universal basic floor from which all may rise. Perpetual empowerment for all is the new universal birthright and we’re ready to turn the khaki night into technicolored dawn.”

NOW studios is a similar concept to its predecessor but with the narrower intentions of finding solutions and getting locals to say “yes” to radical injections of provocative ideas.

All of the art at NOW Studios is for sale. Community members can choose from three price points or pick their own price. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

CANDIDATE INCUBATOR

With all types of musical instruments, art supplies and recording equipment, NOW studios is a creative space, but the Sandcastles also want it to be an incubator space for potential political candidates to practice their platforms and launch campaigns from.

Petals briefly ran in 2020 as a write-in candidate to represent the 12th Congressional District. They want to help foster more diversity in political offices from Ann Arbor City Council to larger, national positions.

They also want to help potential candidates who are ideologically marginalized shape ideas, such as Universal Basic Income, and make them more palatable for community members that may be turned off by what they view as “radical” platforms.

Audiences can virtually tune into the conversations happening within NOW. They can reflect on their own attitudes, privileges and biases in private at home while listening to productive conversations presented in a fun way (like a politician delivering their platform while playing the drums as a drag queen).

“We have to make the offer so enticing that outgrowing fascism and patriarchy and mindless capitalism in America is a given, and I think the only way we’re going to do that is through the backdoor,” Petals said.

NOW Studios is a multimodal space at 715 N. University Ave. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

THINK TANK

One of the missions of NOW is to make creative tools available to anyone, but not always for monetary exchange.

“The idea is to negotiate what it means ‘to value something’ and what it means to have perpetual access to the means of production, to produce something, and to have the wild decadence of getting your creative outlets satisfied,” said Bubbles, born as Samer.

The idea is to circumvent the impersonal nature of money, said Bubbles, and to help visitors think about where their money is going and who it supports. They want to help create a hyper-localized ecosystem that allows community members to offer what feels right, whether that be services, barter, space, or money.

The studio aims to facilitate existential journeys that change mindsets by rewiring perceptions and attitudes.

“It’s time to start pushing things,” Bubbles said. “Post-COVID is the time to start negotiating how we build reality and so we want to be part of that here in Ann Arbor.”

NOW Studios also contains a bohemian cafe in addition to its studio space and art gallery. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

CREATIVE SPACE FOR CHANGE

Eventually, the Sandcastles would like to have spaces like NOW studios in cities around the country. They want to help lift others up by finding their passions and help them reject subliminally participating in a system that forces “us versus them” and fear-based attitudes.

“Ultimately, that’s what it is. How to get people to express their mess. How to just get what’s inside of us out? 130 Americans kill themselves every day, 7 in 10 are men... Why?,” said Petals.

NOW studios is a safe space to explore, express and process, and spaces like the downtown Ann Arbor studio seem to work. The Sandcastles have set up similar concepts around California, North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas and Nevada, and have seen visitors have genuine changes of heart.

“You can’t legislate tolerance. You can’t do that. It doesn’t work,” Petals said, adding that people can have dramatic changes in mindset, but that it has to be done in a fun and creative way.

Bubbles added that criminalizing tolerance also doesn’t work either and that real reform comes through asking deeper, open-ended questions and not punishing individuals or putting roadblocks in their way.

From a professional sound system and art supplies to aerial silks and a wall of mirrors, the colorful basement space has anything anyone could want when trying to create, and it’s already started to get attention.

Petal said that Ann Arborites have already started coming to the creative space. Tree Town personalities, like Violin Monster, have also started getting involved with the Sandcastles’ podcast and community programming.

The downtown Ann Arbor space dances between the “no questions asked” attitude of Lampshade and a more intentional enterprise, with boundaries and expectations that facilitate like-minded community members getting together.

Right now, the Sandcastles are trying to get the space designated as a nonprofit organization so they can work with other organizations and apply for grants and funding.

“We want to be on the front edge of getting people engaged enough with each other so that we can start thinking about reality and society as a game of ‘how can we support each other’ versus a game of ‘how can I get mine and you don’t get yours,’” Bubbles said.

All of the art at NOW Studios is for sale. Community members can choose from three price points or pick their own price. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

Petals and Bubbles hope that what sprouts in Tree Town will act as an example for other cities and communities, and will eventually spread to surrounding areas that don’t have the same resources.

“I think there’s a wicked opportunity in Ann Arbor -- there are so many empty buildings to redesign and renegotiate what the future of Ann Arbor looks like,” said Petals.

Perhaps change won’t take the same shape that the Sandcastles have in mind but they are eager for change regardless because, as Petals said, they want to “emancipate yes from the clutches.”

The space is as fluid as is its schedule. All of the artwork that lines the NOW walls (and ceiling) is for sale, as well as prints, poetcards, and 3-D art. Everything has three price points—cheap, market, and big spender. There’s also the option to pick your price.

The gallery is regularly open with catch-me-if-you-can/make-an-appointment hours; they are working on a calendar of events. The studio is currently available for rent.

The Sandcastles are also hiring and seeking investments for NOW studios.

Community members can tune into NOW programming via live streaming and social media platforms.

For more information on NOW studios, visit its website: www.expressyourmess.com

All of the art at NOW Studios is for sale. Community members can choose from three price points or pick their own price. (Sarah M. Parlette / WDIV)

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