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  • | 4:00 a.m. May 11, 2011
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LAKEWOOD RANCH — Third-grade students from Willis Elementary School couldn’t have been much more excited as they stood on the bay front at Island Park in Sarasota Tuesday.

There, blown up into a billboard-sized display is a creation of their imaginations and hands. Titled “Building Upon Our Differences,” the work is one of 39 selected from more than 2,000 entries submitted from around the world for CoExistance Inc.’s Embracing Our Differences campaign. The contest is an international outdoor artwork exhibit to promote how diversity enriches people’s lives.

“I thought it was cool our school won something,” third-grader Hayden Springer said. “It’s just third grade (that participated).”

The 2011 Embracing Our Differences contest boasted submissions from 2,601 artists and from 1,529 quotation authors. The exhibit, which runs through May 30, matches a winning piece of art with one of the winning quotations.

Willis’ piece is matched with a quotation submitted by S. Labrador Rodriguez, of Bradenton: “Our goal as a society should not be tolerating diversity but celebrating diversity.”

“We all think in different ways,” Willis third-grader Igor Kitanovski said of what the project demonstrated. “It doesn’t have to look the same. It’s OK to be different.”

Student Manoela Dossantos agreed.

“You can make it your own, and no one could ever make the same house as yours,” she said. “You made it up and put something special in it.”

For Willis’ submission, art teacher Aaron Cratty showed his third-grade students images of houses from all over the world. He also taught students about location, climate and culture, as well as what is essential for a home and what makes homes different around the world. Then, each student was tasked with creating his or her own house, whether structured like a traditional home, a tree house or an earth with windows.

Cratty then cut out each house and made a colorful collage for the Embracing Our Differences competition, he said.

“I just thought it was a good lesson for the students because of the topic embracing our differences and celebrating diversity,” Cratty said. “It was a good opportunity for them to see artwork doesn’t have to coordinate with the drapery in your house. It is a voice.”

Cratty and students learned their submission had been named a finalist last month. Cratty said he has entered student work in the competition for the last five years, but this is the first time an entry has been selected for the exhibit.

For information about Embracing Our Differences or to view submissions online, visit

Professional artists, art students and children from around Florida and from 48 different countries submitted entries for Embracing Our Differences.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].


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