Art & Soul: The Visual Arts – Enriching Lives Through Diversity and Inclusion


This edition of “Art and Soul” focuses on the visual arts. Lisa Barry from WEMU and CultureSource Executive Director Omari Rush chat with Nancy Margolis. She is an activist from Ann Arbor organizing an event using the transformative power of art to spark community conversations about diversity.


Lisa Barry: You’re listening to 89-1 WEMU, and it’s Art and Soul. I’m Lisa Barry, and this week Art and Soul is all about the visual arts, so always delighted to be joined by CultureSource Executive Director Omari Rush and our special guest for this segment, Nancy Margolis. Nancy is a community activist from Ann Arbor who is organizing an event using the transformative power of art to spark a discussion about diversity. Thank you for joining us, Nancy, and it is always a pleasure to speak to you, Omari.

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

Omari Rush: Yeah, it’s great to be with you Lisa and you too Nancy. And, Nancy, I should just congratulate you first. I don’t know if I should call you a whirlwind, but there is a force of nature that you have been. And you laugh because, you know, it’s true.

Nancy Margolis: To the right.

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

Nancy Margolis: I saw this amazing art exhibit in Sarasota, Florida, an art exhibit that they’ve been running for 18 years. They are appealing to art all over the world. And, last year, they got about 15,000 submissions on the whole subject of diversity, all kinds of diversity – race, gender, LGBTQ, disabilities, mental illness, etc. They had a jury. They selected 50 pieces of this art. They put them in place. They detonate them in billboard format and put them in the park. With their permission, we’ll do the same. We have formed a non-profit association. We bring their 50 works of art to Ann Arbor. And on top of that, we’re going to have a call for art and have at least 10 local artists – again, all on the theme of diversity. And we’re going to put these billboard-sized works of art in Gallup Park and Leslie Science Park in Ann Arbor and Riverside Park and Parkridge Community Center in Ypsilanti. The best part about this program, however, that I know you know is that it is not just about this fabulous art, but that they have a wonderful, wonderful program. It is accessible free of charge to all teachers, from kindergarten to high school. The diversity program is on their website. Teachers can simply download it. They can use their PowerPoints, they can move their videos, and so on. So we are going to involve the schools. The schools are very enthusiastic about this. We don’t want to overload teachers with more work. So we’re just going to give them whatever is available or whatever they like to use.

Lisa Barry: Is it meant to open people’s minds or hearts or both?

Nancy Margolis: It is meant to start a discussion about diversity – how we feel different, why people feel different, how to talk about diversity and how, yes, to open our minds and open our hearts to creating a different world, a world where people are not the same. They are accepted and affirmed for who they are and what they are.

Omari Rush: Well, Nancy, what’s interesting about this is, I mean, you’re talking about this art – an important art – the experience gets a lot of dialogue. But you yourself, through this whole process of trying to make this happen in Washtenaw County, have had a lot of dialogues with all kinds of potential community partners, different community leaders. I’m just wondering if you could give us some insight into who you’ve spoken to and what you’ve learned along the way, which I’m sure in itself is a dimension to this whole project.

Nancy Margolis: Well, I’m happy about it. What I’m seeing, Omari, is that everyone is very excited to have the opportunity to talk about diversity and look at equity and inclusion and find ways to engage them. discussions. I spoke with probably 80 different organizations from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation that are going to be a sponsor. The arts center, of course, will support us. I spoke to Sheriff Clayton, who is very excited about this project, and he would like to organize a competition among his inmates and select one. And I said that would be fabulous, and we will definitely be putting the arts in one of our billboards. The Ann Arbor Summer Festival wants to do special concerts, pop-up songs and pop-up orchestras at different venues. We had a lot of people very excited to open the discussion. The idea is to have discussions and make people think about diversity. We will have trained dolphins. We’re going to train high school kids to be dolphins, to look at art and then people will talk about what they think of the arts, how they relate to it, etc.

Lisa Barry: The power of art. I mean, we’re talking visual art. But what I feel like hearing you say is that it’s going to have such an impact in so many different ways.

Nancy Margolis: We believe so. We think we’ve seen experiences they’ve had in Sarasota. There are many, many different things that have happened just because of the commercials.

Omari Rush: Nancy, I think one of the distinguishing dimensions of this is that, and you said it was billboard size art.

Nancy Margolis: To the right.

Omari Rush: And, Lisa, there’s something in there that’s sort of right. I was going to say, it hits 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 a lot of conversation when people think about what an article means to them, how they interpret it, even when it comes to judgmental matters, whether you like it or not? Did he get a message across or not? And in those conversations and dialogues, a lot of wealth accumulates, and we come to understand the perspectives and experiences of different people. If I can tell a little story, I mean, I went to a museum with my dad. It was what was commonly called the National Lynching Memorial in Alabama. As devastating as the experience is, there have been so many stories told to me by my dad and I sharing this kind of artistic moment that interests art installations. You know what I can do and so …

Nancy Margolis: Exactly what we hope will happen.

Omari Rush: And that’s just going to say, you mentioned that local artists are going to be a part of that, and it’s happening through this call for art that you just launched. Could you see some more? I know it just opened, and you’re hoping to receive submissions.

Nancy Margolis: Absoutely. We appealed to artists of all kinds in Washtenaw County. Photographers, professionals, amateurs and students are invited to submit a work free of charge. There must be on the subject of enriching lives through diversity and inclusion. The part must be horizontal, number one, and it must be a digital file with a high resolution of at least 300 DPI. And you can go to our Facebook page to get all the information about it. Our Facebook page is called Embracing Our Differences SE Michigan. The deadline is January 3. The judgment will be in February and we will print the work in March. There will be a prize of $ 1,000 for the best performing adult, then we will have a high school of two hundred and fifty best performing, and a 150 best performing in middle school, and $ 100 for the best performing in elementary school. So, I hope all artists who hear about it or if you know any artists, please ask them to go to the Facebook page, Embracing Our Differences SE Michigan and see the call for art. There is a button to press and you can submit your artwork online.

Lisa Barry: And we’ll be linking to all of that with this interview on our website, WEMU dot org. We come in early, so we can educate people about it. Nancy Margolis and Omari Rush. Great to talk to you for this edition of Art and Soul here on 89-1 WEMU.

Nancy Margolis: Thanks a lot, Lisa. Thank you. Appreciate it.

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

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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 send him an email at [email protected]


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