Since 2004, Embracing Our Differences has used the power of art and prose to promote diversity. One way it achieves this is through its annual, juried international outdoor art exhibition comprising 50 billboard-sized works of art, each accompanied by an inspirational quotation.
This year’s response to the call for artwork and inspirational quotations received 13,733 entries pouring in from 119 countries and 45 states. Students from 424 schools around the world submitted artwork or quotations to the juried exhibit.
The winning quotations and art will be showcased at the 20th annual exhibits in Sarasota, North Port and Bradenton.
Embracing Our Differences is a not-for-profit organization that uses the transformational power of art and education to celebrate and promote the diversity of the human family. It accomplishes this through an annual, large-scale outdoor juried art exhibition and a comprehensive series of educational initiatives, programs and resources designed for teachers and students.
With 2023 marking the 20th anniversary of the exhibit, EOD Executive Director Sarah Wertheimer explains that the past 20 years have been ones of monumental positive growth, forward movement and many milestones.
“Our first call to artists received 124 submissions,” says Ms. Wertheimer. “This year, we received 13,733 from 119 countries. And we’re thrilled that annual visitor attendance has quadrupled since we began. Less than 100,000 people attended the first exhibit; we had almost 400,000 last year.”
Ms. Wertheimer adds that EOD’s 20th anniversary theme is “Embracing Kindness,” and the organization is planning several special events to celebrate the anniversary, including exhibiting at two new venues in addition to Bayfront Park.
Sheila D. McKoy, EOD’s exhibition director, says that the 2023 exhibit will also be displayed at Butler Park in North Port and at State College of Florida/Manatee-Sarasota in Bradenton.
“We are so excited to have the 2023 exhibit in North Port and in Bradenton,” she says. “This will allow us to broaden our reach as well as our impact on the community while staying true to our mission and vision.”
Ms. McKoy adds that the exhibit will open at Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota and that the public can expect a series of events commemorating the anniversary throughout the year, starting with a grand opening event on Jan. 22 in Bayfront Park.
Ms. Wertheimer says that only a fraction of the powerful submissions is chosen for each year’s outdoor exhibit.
“What you’ll see is only the tip of the iceberg,” she says. “We’re profoundly moved to see how many people share our core philosophy all over the world.”
Selection criteria boil down to medium and message. What is the core idea of each submission? How well is it expressed?
“Our judges try to imagine the impact the artwork will have when it’s enlarged to the size of a billboard,” Ms. Wertheimer says. “Will it stop me in my tracks? Will it move me and make me think? Will its truth stay with me on the ride home? That’s what we’re going for.”
Awards for artwork are given for “Best-in- Show, Adult,” “Best-in-Show, Student,” and “People’s Choice” categories, with the last chosen by visitors to the exhibit. Adult art winners each receive $2,000; and students receive $2,000, which they split with their school’s art program. Awards are also given for inspirational quotations. Adult quote winners each receive $2,000; students receive $2,000, which they split with their school’s English program.
For more information about these exhibits or Embracing Our Differences, call 941-404- 5710 or see www.embracingourdifferences.org.
2023 award winners
The Best-in-Show, Adult winner for art is for “We Are All Pearls” by Whittney de Araújo, of Recife, Brazil. In it, eight women, seen from behind, sit on a bench in a museum staring at a wall with eight different paintings of a woman. The artist says she used the painting “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer as a reference for the eight paintings in her work. As the viewer glances more deeply, we see the paintings reflect the diversity in color, size, physical ability, style and ethnicity of the women on the bench.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like, your race, orientation or sexual identity, where you’re from or whether you have a disability,” says Ms. de Araújo. “Representation matters and makes a difference in the life of each person.”
Alexis Lee, a 10th-grade student at the Icon Art Academy in Irvine, California, won the Best-in-Show, Student award for her work “Stretching Beauty,” which depicts a thin ballerina who sees herself as much larger in the mirror.
“Body dysmorphia is something so many people go through as they try to reach the extremely demanding beauty standards of society, which usually lead to eating disorders,” says Ms. Lee. “I 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.”
The award for the Best-in-Show, Adult inspirational quotation was given to Alexis Morrell of Wolcott, Connecticut for, “It takes more courage to speak in a silent room than to become another voice in a crowd.”
The award for the Best-in-Show, Student inspirational quotation was given to Hartley Livesey, a fifth-grade student at The Out-of- Door Academy, for, “Always remember you are braver than you think and stronger than you believe.”
Ms. Wertheimer stresses the importance of the statements accompanying each artwork. “Every quotation opens a window into our common humanity,” she says. “They touch us with their wit, insight, and empathy.”
Embracing Our Differences’ annual outdoor exhibits are the heart of a year-round program of activities designed to use art as a catalyst to create awareness and promote diversity.
For more information about Embracing Our Differences, call 941-404-5710 or see www.embracingourdifferences.org.
Embracing Our Differences’ 20th Anniversary
>> Sarasota Exhibit (Bayfront Park) Jan. 18-March 12; grand opening event on Sunday, Jan. 22
>> North Port Exhibit (Butler Park) March 22-April 19; grand opening event on Saturday, March 25
>> Bradenton Exhibit (State College of Florida/Manatee-Sarasota) April 26-May 29; grand opening event on Saturday, April 29
>> Annual Luncheon on Friday, Feb. 17, at Michael’s On East, 1212 S. East Ave., Sarasota