For two decades, the Florida nonprofit Embracing Our Differences has hosted an annual outdoor art show in Sarasota, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. This time around, however, the group is yanking its entire display from one of the venues, the State College of Florida, after school officials requested that three pieces of art celebrating diversity be removed for possibly being "offensive" to some, reports Axios. A spokeswoman for the college tells WUSF that on two of the pieces, visual elements were problematic: One showed a Black child wearing a shirt that said "equality" and "justice," with civil rights images also included, while the second depicted pregnant women conversing with a group of men about bodily autonomy.
The school had no issue with the art on the third piece, but a quote at the bottom, originating from Raaina Chadha, a fifth-grader in India, gave officials pause: "Diversity and inclusion are like the needle and thread that stitch together the harmonious fabric of peace for humankind." Jamie Smith, the college's VP of communications, says that it was the child's definition of some of the words in that quote that led to their request to pull that piece. "We wanted it to be based on what we define 'diversity' and 'inclusion' [as]," she tells WFLA. "There are a lot of different definitions of what it could be—we wanted to say this is what it means to us."
A statement from the college also noted that officials took into account "the values of the college, a recent vandalism of the exhibit's Sarasota display, and current threats of violence on school campuses," per WUSF. The news outlet notes that this development comes amid a push in Florida by Gov. Ron DeSantis to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at the state's public colleges and universities. Ben Jewell-Plocher of Embracing Our Differences says his group chose to pull its entire exhibit, which was supposed to appear at the college in late April, rather than censor it.
"There's nothing to fear in artwork," he says. "Artwork is subjective, it is meant to bring us all around the table to talk about the things that are going on in our world, and that's the goal of what we do." The exhibit remains on display at the city's Bayfront Park through March 12, then heads to Butler Park in North Port from March 22 through April 19. Organizers say they're still hoping to find a new venue somewhere in the Bradenton area for the last leg of the exhibit, which was to run from April 26 through May 29. (Read more diversity stories.)