When Heather Bettner-Prince and Mayor Phillip Stoddard sat down together over iced teas amidst the disturbing headlines of the BP Gulf oil spill last April, an idea was born.
“We were both very upset about the news at the time,” explained Bettner- Prince. “The story in the paper showed photos of dying sea turtles with the question, ‘What will the spill kill?’We decided then to create a message with a public art exhibit.”
And so Manatee Fest 2011 came to be. First National Bank of South Miami hosted the culmination of the brainstorm, supremely executed at the Manatee Fest 2011 unveiling on May 20. Manatees, artists, school kids, merchants, area residents and corporate executives all came together to celebrate the manatees of South Miami.
Like the cows of Chicago, the peacocks of Coconut Grove and the horses of Saratoga Springs, NY, Manatee Fest is a temporary art in public places exhibit open to the entire community and features dressed- up, sevenfoot fiberglass manatee sculptures resting comfortably in key South Miami locations.
“As Floridians, we need to take control of our coastlines,” explained Bettner-Prince. “The mayor and I determined the West Indian Manatee would be an ideal symbol for a public art awareness campaign, as they are native to the canals here.”
Perhaps it was her grandson calling her from around the corner, but as Ms. Bettner- Prince explained how the “momma manatee” is depicted holding her baby representing future generations, her eyes welled up with tears. “There is an emotional connection made as the manatee is looking down at you, humbly inviting you to see her and her baby,” she said.
The baby in the Total Peace Manatee sponsored by Total Bank and commissioned to Artist MANO holds the globe of the earth overlaid with a peace symbol. MANO described the exciting collaboration process he shared with his manatee sponsor. “We met and shared ideas,” he said. “They loved the sketches and we incorporated the bank logo lily pad as part of the sculpture.”
The name Total Peace came about because of the manatee’s gentle nature. Total Peace is a blue manatee with an olive branch in her mouth, surrounded by colorful fish from all over the world, with mermaids swimming around her. The fish represent humanity living together in harmony and the faces of the mermaids represent MANO’s signature work of women’s faces.
The commissioned artists also included seventh and eighth graders from South Miami Middle School’s art class. “In between FCATS and spring break, we somehow managed to get it together,” sighed Cheryl Goodman, art instructor at SMMS.
As the students brainstormed ideas, researched images and sketched possibilities, the Life in South Florida manatee was created. “The best part of the process was witnessing the collaboration and peer critiques,” said Goodman. “The personal growth the kids achieved through the project process of learning how to work together was amazing.”
“It was very intense, kind of stressful but relaxing, very nice and fun,” said 12-year old South Miami Middle School student Madison Rodas about the creative process.
Artist and percussionist Humberto Benitez created a copper colored Mardi Gras style manatee festooned with colorful seaweed style beads symbolizing the music and carnival scenes reminiscent of his Cuban heritage. Benitez was particularly impressed with the students’ manatee. “It isn’t easy to incorporate all the elements and passion of a single project when there is more than one artist at work,” commended Benitez. “These kids accomplished a tremendous feat working together.”
The manatee sculptures will be on display for six to eight months. Visit southmiamimanateefesttour.com to find out upcoming manatee locations where you can catch a sighting.