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Connecting Art & Nature at Rookery Bay

Mar 27, 2020 | Informed Citizens, Reserves, Rookery Bay, Florida, What We Work For

At the Rookery Bay Reserve, art inspires the public and promotes the Reserve’s mission of research, stewardship, and education.

Rookery Bay Reserve protects 110,000 acres of water, wetlands, and wildlife in southwest Florida, but many community members aren’t aware of the incredible estuary in their own backyard. A partnership between the Rookery Bay Reserve and the local art community is helping people discover nature in ways that get their hands—and paintbrushes—dirty.

“Naples has a large arts community, and through the arts we can bring people from all parts of the region to our Reserve,” says Amy Gray, the Reserve’s communications coordinator. “When people attend an exhibit or a watercolor painting class, they are also exploring and learning more about the work of Rookery Bay Reserve, as well as its waters, land, and wildlife.”

A participant in the Brush Strokes class paints a Florida Manateeone of the many marine animals residing in Rookery Bay waters.

“People come interested in art and leave knowing more about their own backyard and feeling more responsible for it,” says Sarah Falkowski, education coordinator at the Reserve. “Our programs promote what people can do themselves—become a birder, work with native plants, recycle—we touch on all those ways through the experience of art.” 

Rookery Bay hosts annual painting and photography exhibitions focused on local flora and fauna, and each year, they feature local artists. For 2020, featured local artist Dora Knuteson painted a large environmental mural for the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center. Dora also donated $3,500 of the proceeds from a recent exhibition to sponsor an intern in Rookery Bay’s Sea Turtle Program.

Art students from Marco Island Academy, a public charter school, paint an educational mural in Rookery Bay’s outdoor classroom.

Photography and painting classes are also offered in partnership with other local artists. New this year is the Brush Strokes watercolor class led by Naples artist Jan Deswik. With Jan’s guidance, anyone inspired by nature has the opportunity to paint the beauty of the Reserve. Each month Brush Strokes spotlights a subject from shells and wildlife to local waterways. Before each class, a Rookery Bay naturalist gives a short presentation about the topic, often with real-life props or visuals. 

For more than 10 years, Rookery Bay has worked with Collier County Public Schools and local private schools to host student art exhibitions. A mural at the Reserve’s outdoor classroom was recently painted by students and is used as a teaching and engagement tool by the Reserve’s educational programs. Creating art with an emphasis on waters and wildlife gives local students the opportunity to learn about Rookery Bay and the coastal estuary environment. 

Jan Deswik, local Naples artist, teaches Brush Strokes watercolor class.

Dora Knuteson, Rookery Bay’s 2020 featured artist, poses with the mural she painted in the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center.

Art students from Marco Island Academy, a public charter school, paint an educational mural in Rookery Bay’s outdoor classroom.

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What We Work ForInformed CitizensConnecting Art & Nature at Rookery Bay