“Embracing Our Differences SE Michigan” installation.
“Embracing Our Differences SE Michigan” installation. (NEXTGen Detroit)

Sixty vinyl banners enlarge images representing ideas by local and distant artists paired with slogans submitted independently by other interested contributors.

The beauty of nature serves as the setting for the beauty of artistic design during an exhibit with worldwide representation and a unifying theme — diversity, equity and inclusion.

The exhibit, “Embracing Our Differences SE Michigan,” is spread across two parks in Ann Arbor and two parks in Ypsilanti, and it will be up through the end of September. 

“Embracing Our Differences" Logo

Sixty vinyl banners (billboard size at 16 feet wide by 12 feet high) enlarge images representing ideas by local and distant artists paired with slogans submitted independently by other interested contributors. While this is the first year the exhibit is being shown in Michigan, it follows a 19-year tradition of similar displays changing annually in Sarasota, Fla. 

Nancy Margolis
Nancy Margolis

At the helm of bringing the images and ideas to Washtenaw County are Nancy Margolis and Evie Lichter, friends who divide their time between Michigan and Florida and take part nonstop with activities in the Jewish community.

“We’re hoping that parents will bring their children, teachers will bring their classes, and everyone will be moved by the art, learn something from the art and start conversations about being open to people who are different from themselves,” said Margolis, former founding executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Ann Arbor and member of Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor.

“We’ve had school groups every day since we started and are continually scheduling them into the end of the various school years. We want to discuss ways in which diversity enriches our lives.”

Evie Lichter
Evie Lichter

The banners address race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and health concerns. Thirty-four appeared in Sarasota in 2021; 26 represent the work of Washtenaw County artists in a range of ages.

“What impresses me most about the exhibit is the international flavor,” said Lichter, former president of the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County and a member of Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor. “Last year, when the Sarasota team did an internet call for artists and phrases, they got about 17,000 responses.” 

Art and slogans were submitted by people representing 123 countries with a jury choosing the ones entered into the display.

“We began asking for local artists and phrases last year, and one image that was chosen had been coordinated by an Ypsilanti art teacher who had five students working together,” Lichter said.

“At the center of their picture (Diversity and Inclusion to the World) is a representation of a globe surrounded by youngsters of different heritage holding various flags. A slogan from Italy (‘This seat is taken; it’s yours.’) accompanies the image.

“On our opening weekend in May, a video was taken of the young artists reacting to seeing their enlarged picture and their names next to it. They were so excited. So were we.”

Diversity and Inclusion to the World.
Diversity and Inclusion to the World. NEXTGen Detroit

Margolis was touched emotionally by a mom reacting to the image Sezer’s Diary from Turkey. It shows a boy in a wheelchair included in playing basketball. The associated slogan (“I am not defined by an inanimate object. Look at me and not my wheelchair.”) comes from Alabama.

“The mother told me that she has a child in a wheelchair,” Margolis recalled. “She said she can’t wait to bring her child down to see the banner because her child will feel so comfortable by seeing this huge picture of a kid in a wheelchair playing with others.”

Docents have been trained to guide groups and individuals, and there is an educational component available to teachers.

The Goal Is in Sight.
The Goal Is in Sight. NEXTGen Detroit
Getting the Project Started

The Sarasota initiative was motivated by a traveling exhibit sponsored by Jerusalem’s Museum on the Seam, which defines itself as a socio-political contemporary art museum.   

In getting the program started in Ann Arbor, Margolis established a nonprofit organization, set up a board of directors and activated volunteer committees — all while Margolis and Lichter raised some $200,000 from interested corporations and organizations.  

Sponsors include public and private schools, varied ethnic and religious groups, and arts associations. Among Jewish affiliates supporting the program are the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor, Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Ann Arbor, Jewish Family Services, Congregation Beth Israel and Temple Beth Emeth. 

Visitors to the exhibit’s opening in May.
Visitors to the exhibit’s opening in May. NEXTGen Detroit

“The art is divided among the four participating parks — Gallup Park and Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor as well as Riverside Park and Parkridge Community Center in Ypsilanti — to bring together our two communities that are close but don’t do a lot of things together,” Margolis said. “The most banners, 39, are in Gallup Park.

“People can go any time the parks are open, and we are giving free field trips to schools and camps. We’re paying for the buses and will have docents in the parks to take them on tour.” 

With the objective of encouraging conversation, Margolis approached a young boy and asked what he thought about an image (Liberty Enlightening the World) from Oregon that showed the Statue of Liberty with the face of a person of color. The phrase (“Don’t wait for better leaders; become one.”) was submitted from Florida.

 Liberty Enlightening the World
Liberty Enlightening the World NEXTGen Detroit

The boy apparently remembered actually seeing the Statue of Liberty and commented that the pictured woman is not green as he remembered the statue.

“Now that comment could be a meaningful conversation starter,” Margolis said.

“Nancy and I have talked about the exhibit and ideas throughout the community,” Lichter explained. “We were successful in standing up the project within one year because organizations and people we approached in our community resonated with the project’s mission.”

Details

“Embracing Our Differences SE Michigan” will be on view at no cost through the end of September at four park areas — Gallup Park, 3323 Geddes Road, Ann Arbor; Leslie Science and Nature Center, 1831 Traver Road, Ann Arbor; Riverside Park, 2 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti; and Parkridge Community Center, 791 Harriet St., Ypsilanti.  For information regarding individual and group visits, go to EODMichigan.org. To arrange for a docent, call (734) 355-0577.

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