(Sarasota, FL) Michael Shelton, executive director of Embracing Our Differences, says that the dates for the 2014 outdoor juried art exhibition are now set for March 30 to June 2, 2014, for Sarasota’s Island Park and Bradenton’s Riverwalk. The exhibit will also travel to North Port High School, May 2 to June 2, 2014. For more information about Embracing Our Differences, call 941-404-5710 or visit www.embracingourdifferences.org.
Since 2004, downtown Sarasota’s Island Park has been the backdrop for Embracing Our Differences’ colorful, larger-than-life canvases integrating powerful imagery and thought-provoking messages celebrating diversity. The scale and impact of this outdoor exhibition has continued to grow since its inception. In 2006, a second exhibit debuted in North Port. In 2013, the organization marked its tenth anniversary with an expansion of the exhibit to Riverwalk in downtown Bradenton.
“The response to our inaugural season in Bradenton was beyond expectations,” says Shelton. “That idyllic setting along a stretch of the Manatee River is perfect for this kind of large-scale exhibition. And the 30,000 visitors who attended the Riverwalk exhibit agreed with us—it works beautifully there.” According to Shelton, attendance at “the biggest outdoor art exhibit in Manatee County’s history,” far exceeded expectations.
The resounding success in Bradenton was only one highlight in a year of phenomenal growth. Shelton notes that, “Combined attendance at all three venues for 2013 clocked in at 278,000 people, including more than 25,000 students from 180 area schools. That brings our cumulative total to 1,600,000 visitors and 142,000 students since 2004.”
The comments and high scores elicited by this year’s visitor surveys tell a powerful story of the impact of this initiative. According to Shelton, this impact transcends the numbers.
“More than 94 percent of the visitors surveyed rated the art as ‘excellent’ and 93 percent felt the exhibit positively influenced their thoughts on the importance of diversity,” he says. “The numbers tell a great story but success, for us, is also when a tourist says the exhibit is one of the best attractions in Sarasota—or when a tenth grade student calls the exhibit a life-changer. Students and visitors instantly connect the dots between the artistic experience and the realities of bullying, prejudice and injustice. People, even those as young as 12, tell me they’ve been deeply moved and feel inspired to become a force for change. Those are the transformative realities behind the dry statistics.”
Not ones to rest on their laurels, Shelton and the Embracing Our Differences trustees and staff are busy evaluating this year’s survey results and exploring new ways to provide an exciting and meaningful visitor experience in 2014.
“We’re looking forward to providing our communities once more with a first-rate visual experience that will allow audiences to deepen their understanding that by embracing our differences—by respecting others and standing up against hatred and indifference—will lead to a better world for all,” say Shelton.
Shelton says that anyone interested in submitting artwork or quotations for the 2014 exhibition, should visit http://www.embracingourdifferences.org/pdfs/2014eodartists.pdf for more information. Final selections will be chosen based on artistic excellence in reflection of the theme and how effectively the artwork will read outdoors when enlarged to billboard size. Submission deadline is January 6, 2014. There is no submission fee.
In addition to the annual outdoor exhibit, Embracing Our Differences’ other programs include:
o The “Make-a-Day-of-It!” program, providing free bus transportation for area students and teachers to the outdoor exhibit and to other cultural venues, including Florida Studio Theatre, Mote Marine Aquarium and Ringling Museum.
o An annual teacher workshop designed to provide teachers with a well-planned curriculum for use before, during and after their students’ visit to the annual exhibit.
o An art teacher retreat presented in partnership with Ringling College of Art and Design, designed to reinvigorate teaching practices while inspiring teachers’ art and art integration skills.
o A docent program that, via partnerships with Riverview, Southeast and North Port high schools, provides student-led docent tours of the annual exhibit, with more 200 student docents participating in 2013.
For more information about this exhibit or Embracing Our Differences, please call 941-404-5710 or visit www.embracingourdifferences.org.
About Embracing Our Differences
Embracing Our Differences is a project of Coexistence, Inc., a local non-profit that began in 2004. The project showcases a community-based outdoor exhibit promoting positive, inspirational artistic and verbal expressions of inclusion, tolerance, acceptance and respect. The mission of Embracing Our Differences is to use the arts as a catalyst for creating awareness and promoting, throughout our community, the value of diversity, the benefits of inclusion and the significance of the active rejection of hatred and prejudice.