If all goes to plan, Bradenton will soon see the benefits of visitors coming to its waterfront just to see student artwork each year.
This isn't any standard student art, however. It's huge. The artwork is displayed on billboard size posters, 12 1/2 feet by 16 feet, in an outdoor park setting.
The Embracing Our Differences exhibit produced by nonprofit Coexistence Inc. blends free educational lesson plans in schools, free field trips and student art and original quotes judged in a worldwide competition.
For the past 10 years, the exhibit was exclusively displayed at Sarasota Island Park. This year it will be displayed at Anthony T. Rossi Waterfront Park from March 30 to April 28, as well as Island Park from March 31 to June 2 and at North Port High School May 1 to June 2.
"Because of the location in downtown Sarasota, Manatee students weren't able to fully incorporate themselves in the program," said Michael Shelton, executive director of Coexistence, which operates the exhibit and educational program.
Mayor Wayne Poston said at Wednesday's City Council meeting that the city has been in talks for three years with Coexistence to bring the exhibit to Bradenton, but wanted to wait until Riverwalk was completed.
"This artwork is done by children from all over the world. There are some Bradenton kids here, but it's from everywhere," he said.
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The exhibit saw 249,000 visitors in Sarasota during last year's two-month run alone—45 percent of whom are tourists, Shelton said.
"While we don't expect to duplicate those numbers in Bradenton in the beginning, that's our goal," Shelton said.
So far, 4,000 Manatee County students registered to participate, and the organization has a goal of 6,000 to 7,000 Manatee students participating this year, Shelton said.
At least two Bradenton students are winners for their quotations they composed.
Noah Font, a student Palma Sola Elementary, won with his original quote: "When you exclude someone, you exclude an opportunity." Miles Fischer, a student at the Louise Johnson Middle School of International Studies, won with, "A puzzle can't be whole unless the pieces work together."
Grace Castilow, a seventh-grade student from Booker Middle School in Sarasota won best-in-show student category for "No one deserves to be limited by another's perspective."
The quotes will be displayed on the same poster of artwork selected for the exhibit.
Out of the 1,972 quotes submitted for the contest, 20 of the winners are from area schools, according to the organization.
For the artwork, 2,400 submissions came from 44 countries and 32 states. The best-in-show adult and student category winners and people's choice for art each win $1,000.
The Best-in-Show adult winner is Liat Waks from Petach-Tigwa, Israel, for her work, "Differences Work, Just Ask a Fork." The Best-in-Show student winner is "Cyber Bullying: Beware of the Big Bad Predator" by Steven Staub, Bobby Alvarez, and Gennadity Kazimirov, seventh-grade students at Heron Creek Middle School in North Port.
In the classroom portion, the program works with curriculum development staff from the county school systems to write and provide free lesson plans teachers can use, and the curriculum staff's time is paid for by the organization, Shelton said.
The Writing About Diversity program help teachers find ways for their students to express thoughts about the topic of diversity, according to the organization.
Students from Southeast High School's International Baccalaureate program will volunteer as docents to guide students and the public through the exhibit. In Sarasota County, Riverview and North Port high schools will provide docents.