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Cassidy Webb

Justin Flippen Manatee Contest Honors Late Wilton Manors Mayor


On February 25, 2020, Wilton Manors and surrounding communities experienced a devastating loss as Wilton Manors Mayor Justin Flippen passed away. Justin was passionate about education, creativity, and supporting children.

In 2019, Justin Flippen had the idea and worked with artist, Claudia Castillo, and real estate agent, Ron Falk to host a manatee contest in collaboration with the City of Wilton Manor and Wilton Manors Elementary. The contest originated as a way to formally introduce Mack the Manatee, Wilton Manors’ beloved mascot at the December 2019 Commission meeting as well as engage Wilton Manors Elementary School students.

Today, the Justin Flippen Manatee Contest lives on in his legacy, continuing to engage Wilton Manors students and encourage their creativity.

Carrying on Justin Flippen’s Legacy

According to Claudia Castillo, “Justin loved children and always wanted to support the arts and believed in engaging students to learn about public service.” The contest was a way to bring families, students, and the community together for a holiday event of celebration and to support the arts with the students of the elementary schools, and the event continues to accomplish that goal today. Claudia explains, “… now that he has passed, we carry it [the contest] on as our way to give back to the community and carry on his legacy and dedication to public service.”

This year is the fourth year the contest was held and it continues to grow each year. The contest was open to every Wilton Manors Elementary and Somerset Academy Village student. Each school received a PDF of a blank manatee graphic that is sent home with students to color and create their own manatee design. Students had a little over a month to complete their designs before turning them in for judging.

The 2021 Justin Flippen Manatee Contest had over 600 students participating and raised over $10,000 in in-kind contributions, art supplies, and prizes for the children of Wilton Manors Elementary and Somerset Academy Village.

Both Claudia and Ron agree that Justin would be very pleased that this contest has continued in his absence and become such an important event for the schools and the community.

Inspiring Artistic Creativity

Students used their creativity to bring each of their masterpieces to life. Claudia says some of her clients have even asked about buying the art pieces.

Students used all sorts of mediums to produce their art, ranging from colored pencils and markers to construction paper, glitter, beads, aluminum foil, and even plants. Many even take on a 3D appearance, despite being crafted on paper. There is no limit to what they can create.

Some of the students who participated want to be future artists, but others simply use the artwork to express themselves.

Choosing the Winners

All of the entries are judged by grade level. First, second and third-place winners are selected from each grade: kindergarten through 5th grade for Wilton Manors Elementary and kindergarten through 6th grade for Somerset Academy Village.

With close to 400 total entries this year, and lots of incredibly tough competition, picking winners was truly not an easy task. A total of 39 winners’ artwork were chosen and announced at the latest Commission meeting and are exhibited at Claudia Castillo ART studio from December 9th through January 6th, 2023. All other entries are exhibited at Wilton Manors City Hall.

In addition to having their art exhibited for the community to enjoy, the top winners also received gift cards and prizes donated by local Wilton Manors businesses and Sponsors, and the schools receive money donations collected.

Check Out the Artwork for Yourself

Claudia believes everyone has an obligation in this world to help others–especially to encourage children to be creative and dream. They are the future, after all. To show your support and view the amazing manatees yourself, be sure to visit Claudia Castillo ART studio at 2215 Wilton Dr, Wilton Manors, FL and be sure to stop by Wilton Manors City Hall.


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