Feb 17, 2023 - News

Diversity art too "offensive" for State College of Florida

"Body and Voice" an art piece by Diego Dillon.

"Body and Voice," by Diego Dillon, one of three billboard-sized pieces of art that leadership at State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota objected to. Photo: Courtesy of Embracing Our Differences

A thought-provoking art exhibit will no longer be displayed at the State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota campus this year after the school's leadership objected to artwork that celebrates diversity.

Driving the news: Embracing Our Differences β€” the nonprofit behind the outdoor show that has been displayed annually in Sarasota for two decades β€” pulled the exhibit at SCF this week after school leaders requested that three pieces of art be removed. It was scheduled to be displayed starting in late April.

  • Jamie Smith, SCF's associate vice president of communications, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that the college believed the three artworks "may have been found offensive and not embraced."

The nonprofit's board called it "a difficult decision" to remove the exhibit in a statement to Axios.

  • The "mission of our organization is not consistent with what is being asked as a prerequisite for showing our exhibition on the SCF campus," the statement continued.
A Black child wears a shirt that says "justice" and "equality," surrounded by newspaper clippings and profiles of civil rights leader John Lewis and George Floyd.
"Good Trouble," by Clifford McDonald, one of the artworks rejected by SCF. Photo: Courtesy of Embracing Our Differences

Zoom in: The school found one piece, titled "Being Different Gives the World Color," objectionable because of the accompanying quotation from Raaina Chadha, a fifth-grade student from New Delhi, India:

  • "Diversity and inclusion are like the needle and thread that stitch together the harmonious fabric of peace for humankind."
  • Smith said the issue was that the quote gives an individual perspective defining diversity and inclusion, per the Herald-Tribune.

Why it matters: This is an example of how pervasive Gov. Ron DeSantis' war on diversity, equity and inclusion has become.

Catch up fast: DeSantis announced plans to block state colleges from having DEI programs from SCF's campus two weeks ago.

  • That same day, 9 miles south, a vandal slashed and threw banners from another Embracing Our Differences art display into the bay at Bayfront Park.

What they're saying: "We are not a political organization with a political agenda," Embracing Our Differences' board said. "We are, however, aware of the current political climate and understand that some institutions have had to look internally and decide how to proceed in the best interest of their own organizations."

A piece of art.
"Being Different Gives the World Color," by Tairo Akiko. Photo: Courtesy of Embracing Our Differences

Of note: Embracing Our Differences has attracted more than 4 million visitors to its outdoor show over 20 years, including 400,000 last year, the group said.

  • This year's 20th anniversary theme is "Embracing Kindness," on display at Sarasota's Bayfront Park until March 12, then from March 22 to April 19 at Butler Park in North Port.
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