In Florida, art plays an important part in sparking empathy for our natural environment. Through various media, these six Florida artists draw inspiration from the beauty of our state.

Melanie Oliva: Painter and Art Director

Artist Melanie Oliva with “Nashville After-image #1, a collaboration with photographer Scott Dickerson”
Melanie Oliva with “Nashville After-image #1,” a collaboration with photographer Scott Dickerson

For Miami-based painter Melanie Oliva, art and activism go hand in hand. Her focus on supporting community through art has garnered her over 30 awards for art direction.

“My art practice centers around cultivating more empathy for Earth and her inhabitants through collaborative paintings, group art activations, writing and activism,” Oliva says. “I’m motivated by the animals, people and areas of Florida that need their voices amplified.”

“Florida After-image #1”, collaboration with Everglades photographer JohnBob Carlos
“Florida After-image #1”, a collaboration with Everglades photographer John Bob Carlos

Oliva is passionate about empowering artists with political messages. She does this through initiatives like Inspiration Pollination, which spreads awareness about the plight of pollinators, and The Artful Activist, which promotes and unites artists, grassroots activists and galleries.

“It’s truly gratifying when my work is involved in shifting opinions or policy,” she says.

Find her work at Follow her on Twitter: @MelanieOlivaArt

Margaret Ross Tolbert: Painter

Margaret Ross Tolbert
Margaret Ross Tolbert

Award-winning artist Margaret Ross Tolbert is based in Gainesville, Florida—and it’s not hard to see her love of the area in her work. One of her artistic focal points is the springs of north Florida, which are increasingly impaired from the impacts of agriculture, development and climate change.

“My work is about inviting people to come home, to feel their connection with, and to rejoin, the waters of the springs and aquifers of the world,” Tolbert says.

“It often reflects the age-old stories and history of our relationships with water. It’s about the wildness and wonder of immersion.”

"Cannon Springs," Randy Batista photography
“Cannon Springs,” Randy Batista photography

In 2010, Tolbert’s work was included in AQUIFERious, a book characterizing and exploring the state of Florida’s springs and aquifer. The book was awarded a gold medal in Florida non-fiction and a silver medal in fine arts from the Florida Book Awards.

Find Tolbert’s work at

Maggie Clifford: Musician and Songwriter 

Maggie Clifford’s work is at the intersection of social science, environmental justice and the arts. She’s worked as a professional musician, with music featured in two acclaimed documentaries, and recently graduated with an MSc in Forest Resources and Conservation from the University of Florida. Promised Land, a documentary in which Maggie is a featured musician, was named one of the top 10 films of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. It premieres in the U.S. in early 2018.

“I started writing the song in this blog post, called ‘A Dark Dream,’ the day after I saw the first images coming out of Houston, Texas, as Hurricane Harvey dumped shocking amounts of water on the city,” Clifford said.

“As Irma was forming in the Atlantic, I was on a business trip to Utah, where smoke from the fires on the West Coast had created a thick, constant haze in the mountain ranges. The uncanny juxtaposition of a water world in the Southeast and uncontrollable wildfires in the West became the first two verses of this song.”

Want to see Maggie play in person? She is playing at Black C Art Gallery in Gainesville this Friday, December 8 at 7 p.m. Find ticket information here:

diane peeblesDiane Peebles: Fine Artist and Biological Illustrator

Diane Peebles, a St. Pete-based illustrator and painter specializes in oil paintings of saltwater sport fish and tropical landscapes. She also works with scientists as a professional illustrator to create accurate technical renderings of fish.

Her illustrations have appeared on the covers of numerous marine conservation stamps/prints and educational publications produced by several state governments. She says her first priority with her artwork is to work on projects that enhance conservation of our natural resources.

She is a member of the international Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and an honorary lifetime member of the Florida Chapter of the American Fisheries Society. In 1998, Diane began serving on the Board of Directors of Fish Florida!, a nonprofit organization helps people, especially children, learn about fishing and Florida’s environment.

To learn more, visit her website:

Maya Schonenberger: Mixed Media

It’s the pliability of textiles that draws Maya Schonenberger to a mixed-media approach. Over the last 20 years, Schonenberger has used her art to communicate with others, expressing her concerns about the environment and the social issues that accompany them.

“You’ve Got Brains”

“I use my artwork for communication, like any another language,” she said. “The language of art is international and multicultural.”

This Miami artist sews, fuses and paints her pieces. Her artwork “You’ve Got Brain” pictures both the ocean of Key Biscayne and the melting glaciers of mountains she has hiked.

“My goal with the piece ‘You’ve Got Brain’ is to help open people’s eyes to the beauty of nature that surrounds them, and share their concern for its loss,” she said.

Born in Basel, Switzerland, Schonenberger attended the University of Mainz in Germany, where she studied sociology.

She has held numerous solo exhibitions in Florida, Switzerland and Germany, and many more group exhibitions both nationally and internationally.

Schonenberger believes art can make scientific topics more accessible. She sees her pieces as both messengers and peacemakers–inspiring inspiration and critical thinking.

“Art can/should serve as a call for action.”

For more art from Maya, visit her website:

Alexis Barbeau: Jewelry Designer & Scuba Instructor

Are you looking for nautical-themed statement jewelry this holiday season?

Alexis Barbeau, a Boca Raton-based goldsmith, jewelry designer and scuba instructor, creates her designs based on her experiences diving in the ocean.

“My current inspiration is sea grass which grows all over our planet in shallow, coastal waters in sand or mud bottoms.  These grasses act as filters for the water column, trapping sediment and providing food and shelter for hundreds of juvenile fish as well as turtles and manatees,” she said.

“I use my diving experience to create and encourage the need for sustainability of our oceans as well as keep me motivated as a practicing jewelry artist. From the careful carving of natural shapes, to the selection of brilliant sparkling stones, to the highlighting brought about with the many steps of fine polishing, I put all my effort into bringing to life the beauty which I experience when scuba diving into each custom nautical design.”

Consumers of Barbeau’s custom pieces can feel good about their purchase–part of her profits are donated to the Ocean Conservancy and Reef International to help sustain the study of scientific education and conservation. Visit her website at to learn more.

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Florida’s Environment: Six #FloridaWomen Bringing Art to the Forefront