Embracing Our Differences's annual art exhibition returns to Sarasota's downtown Bayfront Park with a grand opening celebration on Jan. 21. The display of 50 billboard-sized works will remain up through April 14.
The celebration features three performances by the local band Jah Movement. Local arts and education organizations such as The Ringling Museum, Sarasota Art Museum, CreArte Latino and Asolo Rep will have booths featuring interactive, kid-friendly activities.
Big Blue Grilled Cheese Company, El Indio Tacos y Snacks and Krewe Du Snoball food trucks will be at the event.
This year's call for artwork and inspirational quotations by Embracing Our Differences attracted 16,604 entries from 125 countries and 44 states, says Sarah Werthimer, EOD’s executive director. Students from 584 schools around the world submitted artwork or quotations to the juried exhibit.
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; students receive $2,000, which they split with their school’s art program.
Awards are also given for original quotations. Adult quotation winners each receive $2,000; students receive $2,000, which they split with their school’s English Language Department.
Samantha Dennis from Woodbridge, Canada, won this year's Best in Show award for adult artwork with “’Hand-le with Care,” which shows hands of different colors cradling beams of colorful light that form a heart.
The Best in Show award for student artwork went to Sylvia Tirado, an 11th grader from the United Kingdom. Tirado won for “Are My Roots Showing?” The piece shows a young woman examining her dyed blond hair for signs of her true hair color.
The winning Best-in-Show Adult quotation is “I stand against hatred with love, prejudice with acceptance, and ignorance with knowledge." It was submitted by Faisal Arefin from Bangladesh.
Jessie Ochsendorf, a 7th grader at Pine View School in Osprey, won the award for Best in Show student quotation with "Spread kindness like the world depends on it … because it does." Her teacher is Susy Grandusky.
Embracing Our Differences has been using art and prose to promote the values of inclusion, kindness and respect since 2004. Its annual international art exhibition takes place each year in Sarasota's Bayfront Park and St. Petersburg's Poynter Park.
While EOD is best known for its art exhibitions, it conducts educational initiatives all year long. These include professional development opportunities for educators, reading days and other learning programs.
These arts education programs represent the most important aspect of the nonprofit group's efforts, says Wertheimer. “We’re reaching and impacting the lives of thousands of students and teachers, both locally and around the world," she said in a statement.
According to Wertheimer, EOD's programs have made an impact on more than 587,000 students since they were launched in 2004. In the 2022-23 school year, 58,122 students and 1,981 teachers participated in EOD programs.
Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.