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An exhibit celebrating diversity is canceled at State College of Florida over its objections to several artworks

Artwork that reads 'Justice' "Equality' surrounded by civil rights imagery
Courtesy of Embracing Our Differences
“Good Trouble” is one of the artworks SCF-Sarasota Manatee requested be omitted from its scheduled display.

The cancellation of the exhibit at SCF Manatee-Sarasota follows a push from Gov. Ron DeSantis to remove diversity, equity and inclusion programs from Florida's public universities.

A public art display celebrating diversity will not travel to State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota after college officials requested that several pieces be omitted.

A spokeswoman for the college said there were concerns that several images could offend some viewers. One depicts a Black child wearing a shirt with the words "justice" and "equality" and surrounded by civil rights imagery -- and another of pregnant women talking to a group of men about bodily autonomy.

Ben Jewell-Plocher with Embracing Our Differences, the organization behind the exhibit, says the group pulled the show from the stop, rather than censor it. Removing the pieces would conflict with the group's mission, he said.

"We hope that this current situation doesn't lead to fear because there's nothing to fear in artwork,” he said. “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."

Art image of four men in suits on left and three pregnant women on right, the words "Do We Not Have A Voice About Our Own Body?" in center
Courtesy of Embracing Our Differences
SCF expressed concern that "Body and Voice" might be seen as offensive to some viewers.

Jewell-Plocher said it was a difficult decision to pull the show, but one the group stands by.

"If we were to remove these pieces we weren't allowing for our friends and neighbors to share their lived experiences through the artwork," he said.

In a statement, the college said their request was made after they “took into consideration the values of the college, a recent vandalism of the exhibit's Sarasota display, and current threats of violence on school campuses, which may detract from this event being safe, welcoming, and inclusive as it was meant to be.”

The show was scheduled to travel to Bradenton beginning April 26.

Last month, banners from the display were slashed and tossed into the water at Bayfront Park in Sarasota.

The damage amounted to about $3,000, and police are still investigating. Embracing Our Differences says extra security has been added to the park since the incident.

The show — now in its 20th year — is currently on view at Bayfront Park until March 12 and will open at Butler Park in North Port on March 22.

In a statement, the organization PEN America, which advocates for freedom of expression said objections made over pieces of art that led organizers to cancel it — were “clearly political in nature and cannot be separated from other censorship that is happening in the state."

In response to the cancellation, Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America said, “we applaud Embracing Our Differences’ integrity in the face of attempted censorship. The objections to the three pieces in question run afoul of the tenets of artistic and academic freedom by which college campuses should abide."


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