The latest art installment in Wilton Manors can’t be found in a museum or gallery, but you might see it next time you’re on the Drive.
Partnered with Wilton Art, a nonprofit organization, Sharron Demarest spent the last several months interviewing and photographing Wilton Manors residents. She asked them what they were proud of and for Pride Month, their answers are posted on businesses all over Wilton Drive.
There are 99 posters throughout the area, the largest are featured at the front entrance of City Hall. One Wilton Art board member called the “wiltonproud.2022” project Demarest’s “hurrah” moment.
While Wilton Art team members were coming up with this project, they knew they wanted to highlight the voices of local residents.
“There are amazing stories that are out here in our communities, by everyday people that normally wouldn't even be recognized,” board member Tedd Davis said.
He knew Demarest was the person to call. Davis beamed over Demarest’s ability to capture her subject’s spirit and personality in a photograph.
Demarest’s passion for photography started in the ‘70s. Sitting at a local coffee shop, she recalled the time she’d spent reading Life Magazine and National Geographic from cover to cover. It was then that she knew photography was her passion. She spent years in New York practicing before her partner of 50 years brought them both to Wilton Manors.
“[As artists,] we wait our whole careers for someone to knock on our doors and ask, ‘Would you do this?’” Demarest said. “Some of us never get that chance, but I did. So I’m really, really pleased.”
One of the best parts, Demarest said, is it felt like the whole community was involved. Walking up and down the street speaking to strangers can be nerve-wracking — no matter how many times it’s been done before.
“I was lucky. Generally, when I talk to people, I have to gather the courage to go up to them,” she said.
Artists of all sorts often face rejection while doing street interviews, but on Wilton Drive, that wasn’t the case.
“It felt like everyone was in on it.”
The idea for “wiltonproud.2022” was actually pitched before the pandemic and is now getting its chance to shine. Production took several months and everyone on the Wilton Art Board pitched in. Both Demarest and Davis said Meghan Pearson, a former board member and graphic designer, was a huge help through the process. She designed the final product, aiming to make the stories stand out by using black and white photos against the rainbow posters.
One of the more difficult parts of the project was finding a way to make the images big enough for the posters without losing quality. Not an easy feat considering the posters at City Hall stand at seven and a half feet tall.
But after working into the late evening hours for several nights, Demarest and Pearson were able to make it happen.
“We were really able to make it the best that it could be,” Pearson said. “I think it came out really great. I love seeing the body of work as a whole.”
Now that the project has been posted around town for a few weeks, Demarest is appreciating the community’s positive feedback.
“Everybody was happy. They got to see their neighbors, their friends, and they got to see people they never met before in their lives,” she said. “It did what it was supposed to do.”