Embracing Our Differences Michigan installs 60 art banners in two Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti parks


Alysia Yvette, Knitted Together

Alysia Yvette, Ypsilanti: Knitted Together

A Florida vacation gave Nancy Margolis a "fabulous" idea. 

“A couple years ago I saw this exhibit in Sarasota in one of their parks, and it was so fabulous that I talked to their executive director about bringing it here to Washtenaw County," Margolis says.

The public art exhibit featured enormous vinyl banners with images celebrating diversity and inclusion. It was organized by Embracing Our Differences, an organization Sarasota has supported for 20 years. It spotlights pieces created by students from local schools alongside works by artists from around the world to celebrate diverse identities and inclusion.

In the spring of 2021, Margolis began planning the first Embracing Our Differences Michigan banner installations, calling on her professional experience and passion for amplifying diverse voices to build a coalition that would ultimately bring the endeavor to fruition. 

“My background is in anti-poverty programs and community organization,” Margolis says. “I brought myself into this project because I was so thrilled with the idea of a good medium for working on diversity and inclusion.”

By the time Embracing Our Differences’ first exhibit was installed at parks in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor in May 2022, Margolis and her initial support team had recruited the support of 100 local organizations. The inaugural Michigan exhibition featured 59 images created by students, adult community members, and professionals.

A digital gallery of last year’s artwork is available on Embracing Our Differences Michigan’s website. Tai Azzarro, an Ypsilanti International School student, was in third grade when he submitted his drawing Friendship Forever to the 2022 call for art, which received over 100 entries. "I was excited and happy that everybody could see my artwork," Azzarro says about how it felt to have his work selected as one of the 28 local pieces featured in last year’s displays.

Ember Henderson, Regarding Brilliance Among Each Other

Ember Henderson, Ann Arbor: Regarding Brilliance Among Each Other

The 2023 exhibits run from May through October, offering 16-foot by 12-foot vinyl banners to Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park (15 total) and Ann Arbor’s Gallup Park (45 total), created by young students, amateur artists, and professionals. From paintings, drawings, photographs, and illustrations, each piece highlights the artist’s personal perspective on accepting and embracing social differences in everyday life. A digital gallery of this year’s images is available online.

Lynne Settles, a local art educator with more than 25 years of experience working with K-12 students and leading community art projects, joined Embracing Our Differences in 2021 as a volunteer. Now she's the organization’s art director, overseeing the international call for artworks and managing the selection committee.

“There are seven judges from Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. They are all visual artists, or in the business of visual arts, in some way," Settles says. This group selects the works on display, giving extra focus to submissions from local K-12 students. 

Settles is also managing a new student-created mural project for Embracing Our Differences that involves local artists and students in new ways.

“We are trying to do a collaborative outdoor mural between Ypsilanti middle school students and Ann Arbor middle students on the theme of diversity and inclusion,” Settles says. “We have a space in downtown Ypsilanti, right by the transit center, and we are going to work with Gary Horton, a local mural artist, to help us put the mural together.”

Janice Stevens Botsford, One World One Family

Janice Stevens Botsford, Chelsea: One World One Family

Embracing Our Differences has also expanded its programming this year:

- Student artists from Ypsilanti Community Schools contributed works to the Art Extravaganza, a one-day exhibit on May 16 held at Washtenaw Community College that can also be viewed virtually thanks to CultureVerse.
- Free group tours of the Gallup Park and Riverside Park exhibitions for schools and members of other local organizations. 

With Embracing Our Differences deepening its roots in Michigan, Margolis is still driven by the original inspiration she had in Sarasota years ago:

“[These exhibits] are such a wonderful opportunity to bring together people who are different and help them understand why we need to cooperate.”

Garrett Schumann is a composer and music scholar who teaches in the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Sciences & the Arts. His other writings have been published in The New York TimesGrove Music, and VAN Magazine.