Nonprofit seeks submissions for public art promoting diversity and inclusion in Ann Arbor and Ypsi

Embracing Our Differences SE Michigan, a nonprofit educational art program, is calling for submissions from across Washtenaw County for its first juried art competition. The organization's president, Ann Arbor resident Nancy Margolis, started the effort in May after being inspired by the original Embracing Our Differences nonprofit based in Florida. For the last 18 years, that organization has been using educational art programming to foster understanding of all types of differences. 

"They put out a call for art related to all kinds of diversity such as sex, race, LGBTQ, handicaps, and mental health, and then select 50 entries to blow up to billboard size and then they put the images in parks," Margolis says. "Each piece has a quote that can spark meaningful discussion about differences and how we're really not different, but actually the same deep down."

The local competition, which closes Jan. 3, is seeking works of art from artists of all ages that interpret the theme of “enriching lives through diversity and inclusion.” The original Embracing Our Differences is allowing Margolis' organization to use last year's 50 pieces for billboard-sized images, to which the work of 10 Washtenaw County artists will be added. There are four cash prizes ranging from $100 to $1,000. 

The 16-feet-by-12.5-feet images will be displayed at Gallup Park and Leslie Science Park in Ann Arbor, and at Riverside Park and Parkridge Community Center in Ypsilanti, from April through August of next year. 

"We're starting small this year and will be working toward expanding in the future as things get rolling," Margolis says. "We're grateful for community support from places like DTE, Ann Arbor Summer Festival, and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. Even the county sheriff said he would like to get inmates involved in submitting their artwork."

She says an integral part of the Embracing Our Differences program is centered around education. The program will eventually encourage teachers to use the group's online resources and curriculum in their classes. Margolis also plans to have schoolchildren, and those in adult programs, bussed out to the artwork sites, where they'll be guided by trained docents to talk about how they feel when they view the art. 

"Children and adults don't always have the words to express their feelings and this can lead to negative feelings and behaviors," Margolis says. "Art can be used to transform and spark discussions, and from these discussions we hope people develop more understanding."

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Margolis.