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Manatee magic

First came turtles. Then chairs. Now colorful sea cows are set to pop up and raise money.

Published March 18, 2005

CITRUS PARK - Passing shoppers in the Citrus Park mall pause and watch in awe as Sandra McCoy Johnson paints a fiberglass manatee in vibrant metallic colors. She sometimes asks passing children what she should name the thing.

Hers is the first of many such manatees to be displayed in the Westfield Shoppingtown malls in Citrus Park, Brandon and Clearwater.

The malls are joining forces with the nonprofit Outdoor Arts Foundation, which raises money for manatee protection.

About 15 manatees will be unveiled for public viewing April 19 in the Citrus Park mall. Roughly 30 or so manatees, painted by an assortment of artists, will be on display in the three malls through July. Then they'll be strategically placed throughout the Tampa Bay area in locations such as libraries, Ruth Eckerd Hall and Tampa International Airport.

They'll be auctioned off next year, with proceeds going to the Outdoor Arts Foundation and several manatee conservation organizations.

"It's cool how Westfield is taking art out of the galleries and exposing the public to local artistic development," said Jay Goulde, executive director of the arts foundation.

Upcoming activities include a "paint your own manatee day," a coloring contest, and speakers holding forth on manatee conservation.

"We want this project to be as widespread as possible to benefit the plight of the manatee," Goulde said.

The organization most recently auctioned painted chairs for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, raising $30,000. And Goulde has partnered with the Humane Society to raise $50,000 with creatively designed doghouses.

He also was behind the painted fiberglass turtles that popped up all over the Tampa Bay area a few years ago. More than 100 artists painted and decorated 6-foot-long fiberglass creations for the Tour of Turtles, a 2001 project that raised more than $250,000 for 68 nonprofit groups.

The fiberglass manatee sculptures are from the Resource Factory in Sarasota and come in two different poses: swimming or standing. The standing manatee is 61/2 feet high and 4 feet wide. The swimming manatee is 6 feet long and 31/2 feet wide. Both are modeled after the West Indian manatee.

For now, the only one in the public eye is Sandra McCoy Johnson's conservation-themed creation, which she's been working on in the Sears annex of the Citrus Park mall.

"We wanted to do a small preview to get people excited," Westfield spokeswoman Mary Ellen Norton said.

For further information, contact Jay Goulde at 727 723-8620 or visit on the Web.

[Last modified March 17, 2005, 08:40:12]

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