Organizers of Coney Island’s beloved Mermaid Parade announced the winners of their premiere face mask design contest on Monday night — wrapping up an online competition that solicited photos of artful, handmade masks from across the country.
“It was a light in the darkness. For the people who participated, it turned into a community,” said Mark Alhadeff, a board member of the non-profit arts organization Coney Island USA, which hosted the Put on a Funny Face Mask Design Contest. “It was truly remarkable.”
Thousands of people tuned into the “Maskies” — the competition’s awards ceremony broadcasted Monday night on YouTube — during which hosts unveiled the winners of every category, including best overall mask, best Coney Island-themed mask, best sea creature mask, best historical mask, and best New York-themed mask, among others.
The prize for best mask went to Melissa Lawson from Queens for her elaborate, flowery hat and face covering. Lawson’s work won over a panel of judges that included Coney Island’s permanently unelected mayor, Dick Zigun, actress Annabella Sciorra, and Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus.
“I just want to thank everyone who puts together this parade,” said Lawson on the verge of tears after she was named the winner. “The joy that I feel at this parade is amazing.”
The People’s Choice Award went to “HOT DOG! Face Mask” by Queens resident Suzie Sims-Fletcher, who garnered upwards of 500 votes of the more than 5,000 votes cast, Alhadeff said.
“She was the most enthusiastic contestant in the contest,” he said, noting that Sims-Fletcher submitted several entries and has worked tirelessly to produce masks for hospitals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “She did this as a break from making hundreds if not thousands of masks.”
The award for the best Coney Island-themed mask went to Bronx resident Ruben Santana, whose mask paid homage to first responders and Coney Island businesses, he said.
“I want to say thank you to all the first responders out there that gave their best to take care of us during this hard time,” said Santana in a short speech. “That was my inspiration for the mask — and the business owners who are going through a heard time, that’s why I decided to include them in the mask.”
Other winners included New Yorker Debra Scotti, whose mask won the “Mermaid/Neptune” award for best sea creature-themed mask, and Anthony Whitaker, a 9/11 first responder whose mask, which reads “I am steel standing,” was dubbed best historical mask.
Whitaker’s mask was inspired by the facade of the South Tower, which he saw standing out of the rubble.
“So compelling, and powerful was the physical essence of its presence it seemed to speak, and this is what I heard; ‘I Am Steel, I Am Standing, I Am Steel Standing,” Whitaker wrote with his entry.
An unexpected highlight of the contest was the online community it fostered, Alhadeff said. After Coney Island USA first announced the contest in April, the organization started a Facebook group for perspective mask makers — and the forum, which now boasts nearly 400 members, became a center for resources and encouragement.
“We set up Facebook group, it exploded,” he said. “The way people bonded and became part of this contest is incredible.”
The event was not meant to be a fundraiser, but many participants have decided to auction off their masks to raise money for the arts organization, which has struggled because of the COVID-19 closure. The details of the auction are still in the works, Alhadeff said, but the effort has helped uplift the non-profit.
“We imagined it was going to be creative, it ended up being so much more,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Jennifer Erin Taves’ beak mask won first place in the Formal Mask category. That mask won third place in the Mask Makers’ Choice category; Jenny Du Puis’ beak mask won best formal mask. We regret the error.