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Art & Soul: The Visual Arts - Enriching lives through diversity and inclusion

Embracing Our Differences

This edition of "Art and Soul" focuses on the visual arts. WEMU's Lisa Barry and the executive director of CultureSource, Omari Rush, talk with Nancy Margolis. She is an Ann Arbor activist in the process of putting together an event using the transformative power of art to spark community conversations on diversity.


Lisa Barry: You're listening to 89-1 WEMU, and this is Art and Soul. I'm Lisa Barry, and this week, Art and Soul is about the visual arts so always delighted to be joined by the executive director of CultureSource, Omari Rush, and our special guest for this segment, Nancy Margolis. Nancy's an Ann Arbor community activist, who's in the process of putting together an event using the transformative power of art to spark discussion on diversity. Thanks for joining us, Nancy, and always good to talk to you, Omari. 

Nancy Margolis: Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited to talk about this. 

Omari Rush: Yeah, it's great to be with you, Lisa and you too as well, Nancy. And, Nancy, I should just start out by saying congratulations. I don't know if I should call you a whirlwind, but there's some force of nature that you've been. And you're laughing because, you know, it's true. 

Nancy Margolis: Right. 

Omari Rush: I'm curious how it got started. What was the genesis? 

Nancy Margolis: I saw this amazing art show in Sarasota, Florida, an art show that they have been doing for 18 years. They send out a call for art all over the world. And, last year, they got about 15,000 submissions on the whole topic of diversity, all kinds of diversity--race, sex, LGBTQ, handicaps, mental illness, etc.. They had a jury. They selected 50 pieces of this art. They put them up. They blow them up in billboard-size and they put them in the park. With their permission, we are going to be doing the same thing. We formed a nonprofit. We are bringing their 50 pieces of art to Ann Arbor. And in addition, we're going to have a call for art and have at least 10 local artists--again, all on the topic of diversity. And we're going to put these billboard-size pieces of art in Gallup Park and Leslie Science Park in Ann Arbor and Riverside Park and Parkridge Community Center in Ypsilanti. The best part of this program, though, which I know that you know about, is that it's not only this fabulous art, but they have a wonderful, wonderful curriculum. It's available to all the teachers, kindergarten through high school, at no cost. The curriculum on diversity is on their website. Teachers can just download it. They can use their PowerPoints, they can move their videos, et cetera. So, we're going to involve the schools. The schools are very excited about this. We don't want to burden the teachers with any more work. So, we're just going to give them whatever is available or whatever they like to use. 

Lisa Barry: Is this intended to open people's minds or hearts or both? 

Nancy Margolis: It's intended to start a discussion about diversity--how it feels to be different, why people feel that they're different, how to talk about diversity, and how to, yes, open our minds and open our hearts to creating a different world, a world where people aren't the same. They're accepted and affirmed for who they are and what they are.

Omari Rush: Well, Nancy, what's interesting about this is that, I mean, you talk about this art--momentous art--experience is sparking lots of dialog. But you yourself, as part of this whole process of trying to get this to happen in Washtenaw County, have been having lots of dialogs with all kinds of prospective community partners, different community leaders. I'm just wondering if you could give us a bit of a flavor of the people that you've been talking to and kind of what you've learned along the way, which, I'm sure in itself, is a really rich dimension to this whole project. 

Nancy Margolis: Well, I'm happy to. What I'm finding, Omari, is that everyone is very excited about the opportunity to talk about diversity and to look at equity and look at inclusion and find ways to spark the discussions. I've talked with probably 80 different organizations from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, who are going to be a sponsor. The arts center, of course, will be supporting us. I talked to Sheriff Clayton, who is very excited about this project, and he would like to hold a contest among his inmates and select one. And I said that would be fabulous, and we definitely will put the arts up in one of our billboards. The Ann Arbor Summer Festival wants to do some kind of special gigs, sort of pop-up songs and pop-up orchestras at different sites. We've had a lot of people very excited about the opportunity to open the discussions. The whole idea is to have talks and have people think about diversity. We will have trained dophins. We're going to train high school students to be dophins, to look at the art and then have the people talk about how they feel about the arts, how they relate to it, etc. 

Lisa Barry: The power of art. I mean, we're talking about visual art. But what I feel like I'm hearing you say is that this is going to have such an impact on so many different ways. 

Nancy Margolis: We think it will. We think we've seen from the experiences they have had in in Sarasota. There are many, many different things happened as a result of just the ads. 

Omari Rush: Nancy, I think one of the kind of distinctive dimensions of this is that, and you said it billboard-sized art. 

Nancy Margolis: Right. 

Omari Rush: And, Lisa, there's something about it that just kind of. I was going to say, smacks you in the face, but it's-- 

Lisa Barry: Hard to miss. Hard to miss? 

Omari Rush: Yes. Hard to miss. Undeniable. And, as we know, it sparks lots of conversation as people think about what a piece means to them, how they're interpreting it, even when they get to the questions in judgment, whether do you like it or not? Was it successful at conveying a message or not? And in those conversations and dialogs, lots of richness gets churned up, and we get to understand different people's perspectives and experiences. If I may tell a quick story, I mean, I went to a museum with my father. It was the, what was commonly known as, the National Lynching Memorial in Alabama. As devastating as the experience was, there were so many stories that got churned up from my dad and I having this shared kind of artistic moment that interests artistic installations. You know what I can do and so... 

Nancy Margolis: Exactly what's hoping will happen. 

Omari Rush: And this is just going to say, you mentioned that local artists are going to be part of this, and it's happening through this call for art that you've just put out. Could you see a little bit more? I know it just opened up, and you're hoping to get submissions. 

Credit Embracing Our Differences SE Michigan / Facebook
2022 Call for Artists flyer (page 1)


Nancy Margolis: Absolutely. We sent out a call to artists, any kind of artists, from Washtenaw County. Photographers, professionals, amateurs, and students are welcome to submit a piece at no cost. There has to be on the theme of enriching lives through diversity and inclusion. The piece has to be horizontal, number one, and it has to be a digital file with a high resolution of no less than 300 DPIs. And you could go on our Facebook page to get all the information about it. Our Facebook page is called Embracing Our Differences S-E Michigan. The deadline is January 3rd. The judging will be done in February, and we'll be printing the artwork in March. There will be a $1000 prize for best of show adult, and then we're going to have a two hundred and fifty best of show high school, and a 150 best in show middle school, and $100 for best in show elementary school. So, I hope that any artists who are hearing about this or if you know of artists, please ask them to go on the Facebook page, Embracing Our Differences S-E Michigan and see the call for art. There's a button to press, and you can submit your artwork online

Credit Embracing Our Differences SE Michigan / Facebook
2022 Call for Artists flyer (page 2)


Lisa Barry: And we'll put links to all of that with this interview on our web site, WEMU dot org. We're getting in on the early side, so we can let people know about this. Nancy Margolis and Omari Rush. Great talking to you for this edition of Art and Soul here on 89-1 WEMU. 

Nancy Margolis: Thank you so much, Lisa. Thank you. Appreciate it. 


**Special thanks to Paul Keller for providing the Art & Soul theme music.**

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
Omari Rush has a continually expanding role of service as both an artistic administrator and community leader, in part through his work as curator of public programs at the Ann Arbor Art Center.
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