Casting a wary eye across the rainbow-riddled landscape that is corporate-sponsored Pride, it’s no wonder some folks in the LGBTQ+ community have grown skeptical of the entire concept. By mid-June, you might be thinking, “If I see one more billion-dollar company insisting they value me on a sponsored Instagram post, I’m out.”
And that’s valid, but wait. There’s more. So much more.
“Ann Arbor Is Burning: A Celebration of Radical Queer Imagination,” a three-night immersive experience, part of Ann Arbor Summer Fest (A2SF), was created by Express Your Yes founder Petals Sandcastle; Flint’s multihyphenate performer Tunde Olaniran; Na Bonsai, a Detroit-based musical artist, producer and mixed-media artist, and artist/vibration curator Elisandra Rosario.
The experience might just upend everything you thought you knew about Pride — and, maybe, everything you thought you knew about yourself.
James Carter, associate director of Ann Arbor Summer Fest, says that though the event has presented many LGBTQ+ artists over the years, it hasn’t focused an entire evening on queer artists. “Earlier this year, we had a fun, creative conversation with Petals Sandcastle at Express Your Yes Foundation about NOW Studios activating our Annex space at Top of the Park, and when we asked the question: ‘What would it look like if activities spread throughout the entirety of the event?, Petals, and their collaborators answered with ‘Ann Arbor is Burning: A Celebration of Radical Queer Imagination.’”
Carter says A2SF has several goals for “Ann Arbor Is Burning.” “Connection. Reflection. Joy. Surprise. Delight. Which, honestly, are our goals with any endeavor. We hope everyone will come and have a unique experience,” he adds. “A2SF is known for our spectacle presentations, which typically fall in the large installation or circus performances. Well, if you want a spectacle, come out on June 15. The evening is so jam-packed, you won’t be able to take it all in.”
Sandcastle describes “Ann Arbor Is Burning” as a “fever dream.” “It’s a fully immersive experience that will be spotlighting and megaphoning Black and brown and queer performers, artists and activists, groups, figures and ideas.” Sandcastle says the curatorial team wants to engage meaningfully with the entire Ann Arbor community (including those within the cis-heteronormative base, posing questions like “What if the margin took over?” and “What if the top producers, the people who are creating the container, are Black or brown or queer, and they invite the heteronormative crowd to come to their party?”)
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With these goals in mind, Sandcastle and the “Ann Arbor Is Burning” team put together a series of events focused on a mission to “activate a radically ecstatic space to move, play and love on our own bodies; space to create and connect and embrace our inner child.” Here’s what’s on tap.
Manifestos of Love — 5 p.m. Friday, June 9, Ingalls Mall
The opening night experience centers on a silent disco where participants are encouraged to “embark on a journey inward to explore the limitlessness of our identity through collective vibration.” The lineup includes DJs, poets and MCs spinning live sets through provided headphones as well as opportunities to create art, experience a tarot reading, receive acupuncture and massage, play games, watch improv and more.
Dreamspace — 5 p.m. Thursday, June 15, The Annex Tent, Ingalls Mall
Dreamspace is all about the intersection of art and activism. The “artivist” bazaar will offer a multimodal, multisensory collaborative installation featuring pairs of Michigan artists and organizations focused on intersection justice. You’ll also find an opportunity to get involved by contributing to an interactive community dreams visioning board. “This is a call to unify the tribes,” promotional materials for the event read. “Love is the uniform of our (creative nonviolent) revolution!”
Move/Play (Shua Group) — 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 15, Power Center Lawn
This “playful, curious” movement and sound experience, led by the Shua Group, will take participants through a series of exercises designed to encourage playfulness with the space and others. “The event begins with warming up and exploring unique animal bodies through group sounding, moving easily on the soft grass and activating expressive spines,” the event description reads. “Then, the group will expand outward the playful interactions with the space and others — gliding and flowing through the lawn and building group interactions. Along the way, participants can get to know themself, one another and, perhaps, shift the way the Power Center lawn is known and experienced.” Participants are encouraged to wear a hat.
Ahya Simone: R&B, Soul, Experimental Classical — 6 p.m. Thursday, June 15, Ingalls Mall, O&W Grove Stage
Ahya Simone, a Detroit-based multidisciplinary artist, performer, filmmaker and harpist, will perform at the Top of the Park portion of Ann Arbor Summer Fest.. Simone’s work features an exploration of Black identity, aesthetic and community building and bridges the classic stylings of harp playing to the current century. Often described as “ethereal,” Simone’s music incorporates elements of electronic music, jazz, R&B and soul. Simone is also the creator, co-writer and director of an upcoming fictional web series, “Femme Queen Chronicles,” which details the story of four Black trans women in Detroit.SABETYE: House, Soul, R&B, Indie, Electronic — 7 p.m. Thursday, June 15, Ingalls Mall
SABETYE (Suh-Bet-Tea) is the stage persona of electronic music producer and DJ saylem mississippi celeste. The artist creates experiences utilizing art and sound for “collective liberation and healing” and invites audiences into intentional spaces for healing and freedom. SABETYE’s performance at Ann Arbor Summer Fest will center on “FORT PREMONITION,” described by organizers as an “experimental blend of sounds that are an homage to particular moments in h-time when celeste leaned on sonic healing for solace, inspiration and home space. [The performance] charts celeste’s journey toward becoming a disc jockey, quilter, anti-capitalist, womanist, friend, lover, family member and other roles in which they express facets of joy and love.” SABETYE will share the stage with other vocalists and incorporate dance, DJing, visual stimuli and more in an effort to “invoke a collective experience of expression and joy.”Supercoolwicked: R&B, Neo Soul, Electronic — 8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 15, Ingalls Mall, Rackham Stage
Detroit-based Supercoolwicked is a contemporary R&B performance artist who blends live music with film concepts onstage. Her intention as an artist is to “honor her inner child, find collective freedom and preserve the traditions and historical narratives of African American peoples.” The musician has collaborated with wide-ranging artists, including Tunde Olaniran, Ian Finklestein, Esperanza Spalding and ZBDT. Supercoolwicked will perform songs from her debut album, “Negro, Spiritual,” which focuses on the historical significance of Negro spiritual music while “experimenting with the many types of music developed since the forced migration of enslaves Africans to America,” according to the event description.
Terra Lockhart — June 15, Festival-Wide
Work created by Flint-based artist Terra Lockhart will be on display throughout the festival. Lockhart creates brightly colored sculptural work that combines objects found in nature with surreal concepts. The artist's pieces “reflect the constant process of change, the connection between all living things and preserving and protecting nature.”
Community Council — 5 p.m. June 20, The Annex Tent, Ingalls Mall
On the final night of “Ann Arbor Is Burning,” the organizers invite you to become “grounded in playful practices to jostle the way we intellectually think and feel about reality.” This community conversation is intended as a pilot program to fund an initiative called 27 Culture Ambassadors (or “Civic Flitters”), which centers on the concept of guaranteed basic income. “Let’s drop below the surface together into the vast interconnected web where we are one entangled quantum soup, in contact with aliens and ancestors, ourselves and each other,” the event description reads. At the end of the evening, participants are welcomed into a community flow experience (not unlike the regular events offered in this space through Express Your Yes and NOW Studios), a collaborative improvisational space for music, dance, art, sacred play and creative bop jamming, no experience necessary.