FORT LAUDERDALE - When passengers deboard their planes into Terminal 2 of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, they'll now be greeted by a large mural featuring colorful depictions of the state's official animal, the endangered and majestic Florida panther.
Unlike most other installations, however, the drawings were not done by professional artists.
In an exciting joint effort between the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, the Broward County Aviation Department and the Florida Panthers, the new "Territory Takeoff" art wall showcases illustrations created primarily by local Boys & Girls Clubs members ages 6-18.
"It's pieces like this and exhibitions like this that really put the human touch on who we are as a facility," Director of Aviation & CEO of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Mark E. Gale said. "There's no better collaboration that we can think of than working with the Florida Panthers and the Boys & Girls Club, and actually taking the work from some of the youth, really the future of who we are in Broward County, and displaying it on all our walls for passengers to see… They've produced phenomenal pieces, and we couldn't be more proud to display them."
While numerous Boys & Girls Club members submitted work, 15 lucky winners were chosen to have their drawings be a part of the display. Lined up to the right of a large monochrome sketch of a panther, the winning pieces have been imposed onto shields - a nod to the Panthers logo.
From the inside of BB&T Center to natural green, thicketed areas, the drawings honor both hockey team, its namesake and the nearby habitat in which it resides. The overall goal of the exhibit is to bring awareness to both the incredible beauty and imminent plight of the panther.
As their natural habitat continues to shrink, the Florida panther is considered one of the most endangered mammals in the world, with only 130-230 currently estimated to be living in the wild.
"Their art is displayed on our shield, our crest that we wear on our uniform, which is really cool" Panthers Chief Operating Officer Sean McCaffrey said. "I think it gives them a personal touch and allows them to highlight their abilities. There's obviously a lot of really talented kids at the Boys & Girls Club… It's a great touch to highlight the airport as well, a great community asset.
"You're not going to miss it walking out of the terminal here. It's colorful. It's bright. It's in your face. I think it speaks highly of the kids and how they were able to infuse their artistic abilities and showcase it. We've also been able to add some art from our creative team. I think it's a great tribute to an unbelievable animal that's really close to the area and our team as well."
In inviting local Boys & Girls Clubs to contribute to the exhibit, the Panthers were also able to successfully combine two of their foundation's four pillars to complete the project - assisting in improving children's health and education, and also raising awareness for the Florida panther.
A former recipient of a Community Champions Grant, a donation awarded from the Florida Panthers Foundation to one local 501(c)(3) organization or government agency, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County have worked since 1965 to enable all local youths, especially those in need, to reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens.
Entering its fourth season, the Community Champions Grant Program awards a donation - typically for around $25,000 - to one organization during each of the Panthers home games.
During the first three years of the program, the Florida Panthers Foundation awarded a total of $3 million to more than 120 organizations. Launched under the leadership of Vincent J. Viola and Douglas Cifu in 2016, the program has committed $5 million over five years to the area.
One of the team's oldest community partners, the Panthers have worked with Boys & Girls Clubs on numerous projects since their inaugural season in 1993-94, including ball hockey tournaments, facility renovations, funding for academic programs and much, much more.
"We've had a longstanding partnership with the Florida Panthers for a number of years," Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County Chief Development Officer Chris Gentile said. "They're always helping us give back to the kids and thinking of the kids. They approached us a little while back and told us about this project with the airport… As you can see on the wall, there's some really outstanding artists showcasing their talent. We're just happy to be a part of this process with them and the Fort Lauderdale International Airport and the Broward County government."