Meet Phoebe, the giant pink flamingo turning heads at Tampa International Airport

By Jessica Grobstick

TAMPA – Throughout the years, Tampa International Airport has been home to a variety of artwork crafted by local, national and international artists. The newest piece by Matthew Mazzotta is just as eye-catching: a giant pink flamingo sculpture named Phoebe.

The sculpture, originally titled “HOME,” towers 21 feet and is located at the entrance of the airport.

Mazzotta named the sculpture “HOME” because, “An airport is a special place, are you leaving your home or coming back home? Home also extends to all the wildlife that considers Florida their home like the popular bird of Florida, the flamingo.”

Mazzotta’s artwork transports travelers underwater as the creation depicts a flamingo gently dipping its head below the surface of the water. This is created by attaching metal panels and lighting to the ceiling as part of the artwork. This eye-catching art piece was built after being chosen from more than 700 art proposals submitted from around the world.

“The airport wanted to have new public artworks, so they ran a call for interest online. I was selected with two other artists, this is known as being short-listed,” Mazzotta said.

Mazzotta and the two other artists were given some money to develop a proposal. He said he proposed the Flamingo installation called “HOME” and the jury selected it.

The flamingo was commissioned for $520,000 as a part of Tampa International Airport’s Public Art Program.

Mazzotta was selected in 2020 to create the piece but unfortunately, COVID-19 stopped the production. He was able to pick it back up in 2021 and had it installed in 2022.

“This is going to be a very joyous sculpture, just from the people who have come out and taken photos I can see this is actually going to bring light and brightness to the people traveling,” Mazzotta said.

Courtesy of Jessica Grobstick

Having been completed and receiving so much attention, the sculpture was missing one thing: a name. Tampa International Airport and the artist agreed that the flamingo needed a name. They created a contest called Name the Flamingo, and they wanted the public to help.

C.J. Johnson is TPA’s Communications Specialist and the man behind the social media and content.

“Given how much people have loved the flamingo from the time it was installed last year, we wanted to give people the chance to get even more involved with this iconic bird. While the art piece is still formally known as ‘HOME’ we thought having a naming contest would be an engaging and fun community effort,” Johnson said.

The winner of the contest would receive four round-trip tickets from Silver Airways and a VIP experience package to Busch Gardens, including four single-day admission tickets, four all-day dining passes, four quick queue unlimited passes and preferred parking.

Voting was done online. One entry was allowed per person and participants were asked to briefly explain on the form why they chose the name they submitted. The contest was open to the public for one week. The submission period ended on December 6, 2022. 

The Name the Flamingo contest received over 65,000 entries from all over the world.

In the following stages, the airport selected the top three names and let the public vote one last time. Originally, the flamingo’s name was to be announced on Dec. 16, 2022, but the judges asked for some additional time to review all the submissions.

“We assembled a panel of Hillsborough County Aviation Authority (HCAA) employees to review each of the entries. The panel was tasked with thoroughly reviewing tens of thousands of names and choosing the three most deserving,” Johnson said.

On Dec. 30, 2022, it was finally time for the public to name the bird. The three final names came down to Finn, Cora and Phoebe. Voting was left open to the public until Jan. 2, 2023. Johnson led the panel and said they had a lot of fun reviewing the entries and narrowing it down to three favorites agreed upon by the judges.

The community was very passionate about the flamingo. The three finalist names ended up receiving a total of 37,000 votes. Tampa International Airport felt this was an incredible response given that there was no prize for voting.

“We knew from the start of the contest that we wouldn’t be able to please everyone with the selections, but we were pleased to see an outpouring of support,” Johnson said. “People wanted to pick a favorite at that point.”

The winning name was Phoebe with 16,122 votes, Cora followed closely second with 14,341 votes and Finn with 6,779.

The winner of the contest is 63-year-old J. Bryan M., who is a retired educator.

“I went to elementary school in Tampa, just a mile down the road from Busch Gardens,” Bryan said. “When I heard about this contest I wanted to enter. After working in higher education for forty years, I thought I would submit a name that tied back to the scientific name for a flamingo.”

He submitted Phoebe for the following reason:

“A play on Phoenicopterus- the flamingo’s scientific name ‘Phoebe’ is also a playful alliterative to flamingo and means brilliantly inquisitive. The overall ‘HOME’ sculpture is literally brilliant and reveals the flamingo’s inquisitiveness as it hunts for food in the shallows,” he said.

Bryan lives in Daytona Beach Shores. His childhood was spent in Tampa. He visited the airport on Jan. 25 to pick up his prize and take a photo with Phoebe.

“We are excited to see many on social media already referring to the flamingo as Phoebe. This contest did everything we wanted it to do: Bring more awareness to Tampa International Airport and the Tampa Bay region from all over the world and give our traveling community a fun way to play along with us,” Johnson said.

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