A traveling outdoor art show has canceled an exhibition at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (SCF) after the school requested the removal of certain artworks depicting issues such as abortion, police brutality, and diversity and inclusion. The cancellation comes following Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s announcement of plans to remove diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs from state universities a few weeks ago.
Nonprofit Embracing Our Differences’s (EOD) 20th-anniversary show launched on January 18 in Sarasota, Florida, with plans for a show in Bradenton, south of Tampa, to open on April 26. However, the public college requested that three banners be removed before EOD traveled to the SCF campus in the spring.
The school told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that it deemed “Good Trouble” by Clifford McDonald, a collage depicting a young Black boy, civil rights leader John Lewis, and the letters BLM, “potentially offensive.” The college also reported issues with Diego Dillon’s “Body & Voice,” which portrays a pregnant woman asking a group of men, “Do We Not Have A Voice About Our Own Body?” and a caption for “Being Different Gives the World Color” by Taira Akiko Hiraguri written by Indian fifth-grade student Raaina Chadha that reads, “Diversity and inclusion are like the needle and thread that stitch together the harmonious fabric of peace for humankind.”
The State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
Executive director Sarah Wertheimer told Hyperallergic that the nonprofit’s board of directors decided unanimously to withdraw their show from SCF’s campus as the college’s request did not align with EOD’s mission to use the arts to promote positive global change.
“Embracing our Differences has remained and will continue to remain true to our core values, and those values include embracing and promoting diversity, inclusion, and equity,” said Wertheimer in a statement. “To do otherwise would betray our mission and turn our backs on those who have supported us over the past two decades.”
DeSantis has amped up his war on what he terms “woke” ideologies in recent weeks, specifically targeting the teaching of race theory in schools. About a month ago, DeSantis appointed conservative activists to the New College of Florida board of trustees, who have pledged to overhaul the school’s progressive policies including DEI initiatives. SCF’s campus in the Bayshore Gardens area sits about five miles north of New College, which is also a publicly funded school. On January 31, DeSantis held a press conference at SCF in Sarasota to discuss funding cuts to DEI programs. The same day, vandals slashed and removed “Women of the Bluest Eye,” a piece by Donna M. Richardson at EOD’s show at Bayfront Park inspired by Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye. (PEN America’s Index of School Book Bans reports that Morrison’s novel has been the subject of book-banning efforts in the Sarasota County School District.)
EOD has hosted its juried international art exhibition since 2004. For the 2023 season, themed “Embracing Kindness,” the nonprofit received over 13,000 entries from 119 countries and 45 states, which they narrowed to 50 billboard-sized artworks with accompanying inspirational quotes. Their annual show drew over 370,000 visitors last year and more than 4 million to date. The organization is working to secure a new venue in Bradenton after the Bayfront Park stops in North Port, Florida.