Manatees with a message are coming soon to SoMi

By Nancy Eagleton….

Veronica Birch Flores, executive vice president, said that FNBSM is proud to be a premier sponsor of Manatee Fest.

The South Miami Manatee Fest, a free public art event, is coming this winter. Fashioned after the cows of Chicago, the flamingos of Coral Gables and Miami Beach and the Peacocks of Coconut Grove, the manatees of SoMi will brighten the streets of the community while sending a message to protect the environment.

This unique, interactive art exhibit was founded by Heather Bettner, president of Prince Media Development, and will be sponsored by South Miami community members and businesses.

Sponsor opportunities for Manatee Fest are still available.

Bettner, who is also the organizer of the Coconut Grove Peacock Tour, said that a company’s participation in art can be just as powerful as various media placements.

“Public art displays lift the profile of the community and unite businesses, citizens and visitors,” she said. “The smiles and emotions that the Coconut Grove display has generated amaze me and have energized me to do more with art in public places.”

First National Bank of South Miami is a premier sponsor of Manatee Fest and recently held a launch event in the Wirtz Gallery, located within the bank.

Veronica Birch Flores, executive vice president of FNBSM, said, “In line with our longstanding commitment to the arts, First National Bank of South Miami is thrilled to be the premier sponsor of this event.”

Flores also represented Chamber South, which will present the 39th Annual South Miami Art Festival in November, and said that the chamber is committed to providing local businesses with great exposure opportunities.

In the early stages of planning Manatee Fest, Bettner collaborated with South Miami Mayor, Phillip Stoddard to determine which animal would best represent South Miami.

Mayor Stoddard said, “We asked ourselves, ‘what South Florida animal do people love and revere?’ We immediately thought of the manatee. They come into our canals and they are the only large mammals that make humans look good! They’re humble, gentle and vulnerable.”

Some of the six-foot tall, fiberglass manatees will feature calves with their mothers and all will be holding a globe to promote environmental issues. The manatee model will be introduced at the November Art Walk and the manatees will grace the streets of SoMi in mid-January and be placed close to their sponsors’ locations.

“A public celebration to welcome the manatees will be held on January 14th,” said Bettner.

“There will be food and music and the manatees will be on display for all to enjoy.”

More than 24 award-winning local artists have signed on to paint the manatees, including Nancy Martini, Alex Yanes, Jennifer Andolino, Romero Britto and Ed King, just to name a few.

Bettner said that artist applications are still being accepted.

Endangered species artist, Alex Yanes, designed the Manatee Fest poster.” I’m honored to have the opportunity to be a part of this project and help bring awareness of the manatee and the environment to our children,” he said.

South Miami resident and marine mammal specialist, Richard O’Barry, of Earth Island Institute, attended the launch event and is “happy to see the manatee receive much deserved attention.”

O’Barry’s efforts to expose the plight of dolphins and ensure their protection are featured in his Oscar-award winning documentary, “The Cove,” and the new Animal Planet series, “Blood Dolphin.”

Bettner’s goal is for the manatees to stay on display in SoMi for one year. At the end of Manatee Fest, the pieces will be auctioned to raise money to benefit the sponsors’ charities of choice.

“Our objective is to assist local non-profits that support environmental causes and children and family issues,” said Bettner.

One such environmental non-profit is the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nature Center, located in Crandon Park in Key Biscayne. Theodora Long, director, said “Marjory will be looking down upon the street named after her (Sunset Drive) and saying that things are going very well.”

Interested sponsors and artists should call Heather Bettner of Prince Media at 305-775-0113 or email her at

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