The Embracing Our Differences public art exhibit's format ensures a diverse mix of artwork and inspirational quotations is put on display throughout Bayfront Park.
Judges do not know the age, nationality or other characteristics of any of the individuals submitting, with 16,604 submissions having been offered this year.
Nonetheless, community members of many ages were represented at the event, which kicked off with its Grand Opening Celebration on Jan. 21 and runs through April 14.
Among the young individuals involved was Jessie Ochsendorf, a seventh grader at Pine View School, who was presented with the Best In Show Quotation award for her quote that accompanied “OK Awesome” by local artist Michael White. Her quote was "Spread kindness like the world depends on it ... because it does."
“I'm super honored. I definitely didn't expect to win, because it was just a school project, and I'm so glad I did it,” she said. “I’ve been coming to Embracing our Differences for a long time, and I love looking at all the quotes and artwork.”
The event, which featured music by Jah Movement, opened with remarks by individuals including staff from Embracing Our Differences, the nonprofit which hosts the exhibition, and Deputy City Manager Patrick Robinson and City Commissioner Debbie Trice.
Sarah Wertheimer, executive director of Embracing Our Differences, said some artists and quoters traveled from around the country to attend the event that day.
“We're really excited because we think that this is the time more than ever that people are craving and wanting these positive messages of inclusivity, and really focusing on kindness and respect and all that brings us together as human beings,” she said.
Donna Richardson of Tampa, one of the featured artists, said the exhibition represents her mission of spreading love.
“It means just about everything,” she said of the chance to be included for a second time. “A lot of times artists are asked to compromise. They don’t ask you to compromise. … If you have 16,000 submissions, that’s saying something.”