The Embracing Our Differences education initiative publicly presents its 20th annual traveling exhibition at Sarasota’s Bayfront park from now until Mar. 12, and showcases 50 hand-chosen works centered around celebrating diversity. The art is featured along the walkways of the Sarasota marina for the public to enjoy, and the exhibit will be traveling throughout Southwest Florida continuing at North Port, Butler Park and Bradenton where the location is yet to be decided.
Embracing Our Differences is a nonprofit organization based in Sarasota which offers awards to artists featured in each year’s exhibit in four categories: “Best-in-Show Adult,” “Best-in-Show Student,” “Best Quotation” and “People’s Choice,” which is voted on by attendees of the exhibit. In honor of the exhibit’s 20th anniversary, the cash award was doubled from $1,000 to $2,000 for 2023. The winner of the “Best-in-Show Student” award splits the $2,000 prize between themselves and their school’s art or writing program.Embracing Our Differences currently partners with community organizations including Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee and Ringling College of Art and Design.
“The 2023 Exhibit had an impressive response to the call for artwork and inspirational quotes, with 13,733 entries pouring in from 119 countries and 45 states,” the project website states. “Students from 424 schools around the world submitted artwork or quotes to the juried exhibit and more than 65% of submissions were from students.”
The team behind the Embracing Our Differences exhibit hopes to provide insight into social and humanitarian issues by giving a visual narrative for audience members upon one glance. This year’s Best-in-Show Student, tenth grader Alexis Lee from Icon Art Academy in California did just that with her winning acrylic painting, “Stretching Beauty.” Lee discussed her inspiration through an artist’s statement on the “Embracing Our Differences” webpage.
“Body dysmorphia is something so many people go through as they try to reach the extremely demanding beauty standards of society which usually leads to eating disorders,” Lee said. “I currently have a close friend in the hospital recovering from anorexia, so this theme means a lot to me and I definitely think that there should be more body positivity in today’s society.”
Best-in-Show Adult Whittney de Araújo also displayed excellence with her painting, “We Are Pearls.” de Araújo is an artist from Recife, Brazil who used the painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer as a reference for her piece and added her own personal twist.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like, your race, orientation or sexual identity, where you’re from or whether you have a disability,” de Araújo said. “We all bleed the same, and we deserve to be respected and represented. Embracing Our Differences is a very important step for change—we are all pearls; we need and want to be represented.”
In addition to the art submissions, artists were required to submit an inspirational quote to accompany the piece. Awards were given to two artists who impressed the judges most with their quotes.
Diego Dillon from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University used a winning quote along with his piece, “Body and Voice,” which is about the challenges that women struggle with, whether that be in the form of a lack of body autonomy or oppression.
“Women have been fighting for rights their whole lives, including voting rights, equal pay, career opportunities and reproductive rights,” Dillon said in his artist’s statement. “I tried to show the frustration that women feel. My artwork is about reproductive rights and showing how their voices aren’t being heard. These are all real-life problems that women face on a daily basis.”
Dillon’s winning quote displayed with his work was the following: “It takes more courage to speak in a silent room than to become another voice in a crowd.”
Brittany Branigers’s eighth grade class at Rowlett Middle Academy in Bradenton was also recognized for the “Best Quotation” prize. The students collaborated to create their piece, “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.” Students originally created the multi-media work as a backdrop for their department’s depiction of “Life Doesn’t Scare Me At All” by Maya Angelou. The eighth graders carefully composed the work with a mixture of newspaper, spray paint, acrylic paint, tempera sticks and glitter while listening to the symphonies of jazz music to get inspired.
“Always remember you are braver than you think and stronger than you believe,” Braniger’s class states.
The “People’s Choice” award is chosen by viewers of the exhibitions and will be selected at the end of the touring exhibition in the end of May 2023.
Thanks to the 20th-anniversary luncheon the Embracing Our Differences team also held, the nonprofit was able to raise $248,000 for the future of education enrichment initiatives. These donations will cover transportation for students and teachers to visit cultural venues, workshops, student docent programs in high schools and the upcoming 2024 exhibition.