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Sarasota's 'Embracing our Differences' exhibit seeks to 'understand the experiences of others'

The billboard-sized works were chosen out of 17,413 entries from 123 countries, 47 states, and 423 schools around the world.

SARASOTA, Fla. — The annual international outdoor exhibition "Embracing Our Differences" has returned to Sarasota's Bayfront Park. 

The juried exhibit promoting 'diversity and inclusion' consists of 50 billboard-sized works of art, each accompanied by an inspirational quote.

According to the organizers, the exhibit is at the heart of a year-round program of activities designed to use art as a catalyst to create awareness and promote diversity. The pieces for the exhibition were chosen out of 17,413 entries from 123 countries, 47 states, and 423 schools from around world.

"I am still in shock that my art work was selected for exhibit and now to be selected as Best in Show, Adult winner, it just feels unreal.  This piece was a work of heart for me. I hope it's message rings clear and starts wonderful conversations," said Samantha Miller of Sarasota.

Credit: Samantha Miller
"Cultivation," created by Samantha Miller of Sarasota, Florida won Best in Show, Adult winner category

Miller's piece titled "Cultivation," won Best-in-Show for the adult winner category.

Other local artists being showcased include Mia Gonzalez, a 9th grade student from Parrish Community High School in Bradenton who won the Best-in-Show Student award, and Alicia Chalmers of Bradenton, who won Best-in-Show for her inspirational quotation. 

"Yet again, thousands of caring people jumped at the chance to celebrate the values of diversity and inclusion," said Sarah Wertheimer, Embracing Our Differences' executive director. Wertheimer said the team of organizers were overwhelmed by the outpouring of global response to this year's call for submissions.

"Our art selection jury was deeply touched and inspired by their heartfelt honesty and level of artistic excellence," she said.

According to Wertheimer, the submissions covered a broad range of personal views and artistic expression with the core purpose of uniting diverse voices.

"It boils down to respecting each individual for who they are. Human identity is an intricate tapestry of culture, nationality, sexual orientation, personal experience, the social construct of race, and more. That incredible diversity is a beautiful thing. Embracing Our Differences honors that beauty, and we select the quotations and artwork that best express it," Wertheimer said in a statement.

Artists who sent in entries and were selected as finalists were drawn from all over the country and the world.

"I desire to represent people and concepts truthfully, and often find myself working in realism. In this piece I created illustrations of various people who represent my community. The people I have met throughout my academic career have shown me the importance of having a diverse society," said Gracie Cliff of Morristown, Tennessee. Cliff's entry into the exhibition is titled "Seek to Understand the Experiences of Others."

"Many societies are diverse, but the individuals within often struggle to embrace and empathize with people whose experiences are different from their own. This art piece is a call to action that causes viewers to question their biases," read Cliff's artist statement.

This year's exhibit at Bayfront Park is on display now through April 10. To view all the selected works, visit the Embracing Our Differences online gallery.

The exhibition is also looking for volunteers to help with a "no-contact" tracking of visitors. Volunteers are able to maintain social distance and are welcome by their own accord to chat and interact with visitors who may have questions. 

To sign up, interested candidates can email: volunteer@embracingourdifferences.org.

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