GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tap into the Florida Museum of Natural History’s grand opening of its new, permanent exhibit, “Water Shapes Florida,” with a celebration March 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This free, family-friendly festival includes hands-on learning activities, workshops, food trucks and more! Water-themed local music and art performances will include jazz band Porch Swing from 12 to 1 p.m. and 3 to 4 p.m. “State of Wonder,” performed by Danscompany of Gainesville, will take place from 11 to 11:30 a.m.

people doing activities at a table
Visitors can interact with hands-on activities that are fun for all ages and skill levels, like watercolor painting, at the Florida Museum’s “Water Shapes Florida” opening day celebration. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace

Visitors can explore the art and science of water through activities for all ages and skill levels. Discover the magic of watercolor resistant-art, in which crayons and watercolor paints repel each other to create stunning effects; create an artistic topography map based on how water and the elements interact with the landscape; and bottle up your creativity by decorating a bottle.

The first-place, second-place, third-place and Judges’ Award winners of the Water Shapes Florida photo contest will be recognized during the opening celebration at 10 a.m.

The museum will also be hosting workshops as part of the celebration. Get out in nature and explore the wetlands in the University of Florida’s Natural Area Teaching Lab with Alberto Lopez, the museum’s youth outreach coordinator who is also a naturalist and photographer. Once guests reserve their spots, they can uncover tips and tricks to capturing interesting subjects and great cellphone pictures through the Exploring Wetlands with Mobile Photography workshop from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Attendees will also learn how their pictures can be submitted to iNaturalist’s worldwide City Nature Challenge to further scientific research on conservation.

person taking photo of flower
Visitors can preregister spots for the “Water Shapes Florida” opening celebration workshops, such as the Exploring Wetlands with Mobile Photography workshop, which can help sharpen their nature photography skills. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace

Refresh your backyard’s biodiversity through the Water Wise Planting for Your Home Habitat workshop from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Led by Ryan Fessenden, the museum’s “Butterfly Rainforest” manager, registered guests can learn how to improve their personal ecosystems, conserve water and local habitats. Both workshops are free, require pre-registration and limited to 20 participants each.

Food and drinks will be available for purchase at B’z Gelati. Community organizations that will educate visitors on local natural resources include the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, Florida Museum ichthyology collection and Lubee Bat Conservancy.

Water is one of Florida’s most valuable renewable resources, as the state is home to more than 1,000 freshwater springs. This new, engaging exhibit will follow the history of Florida’s waterways, from underground aquifers to rivers and lakes and the clouds in the sky.

“Overall, I just think that it ties a lot of different disciplines together because there’s not only people that study water but also those that study the animals that live in the water, the plants that use water and the way the water-cycle processes occur,” said Janelle Peña-Jiménez, public programs coordinator at the Florida Museum. “It’s a great tool for engaging audiences to learn about what’s happening and why we should care about springs and protecting them.”

Water Shapes Florida cave
Visitors can traverse the limestone cave to gain insight on water’s role in natural processes. ©Florida Museum/Kristen Grace

The “Water Shapes Florida” exhibit replaced the “Northwest Florida: Waterways & Wildlife” exhibit, which closed its doors in early 2023. The new display has revamped the immersive cave experience that has captivated visitors for over 20 years.

“Our beloved cave has been given a fresh look with new content, lighting and media screens, giving visitors a peek into the aquifer beneath their feet. We have also created a glass-bottom-boat theater that takes visitors on a magical journey to visit some of Florida’s iconic springs,” said Florida Museum exhibit coordinator Julie Waters.

The Springs Gallery, Recharge Lounge and Water Lab areas invite guests to learn about the history of Florida’s aquifers, the biodiversity of freshwater biomes and current research with various multimedia displays, interpretative graphics, and real objects and specimens.

“Being surrounded by water, it’s easy to forget that the water supply is currently threatened by pollution and overuse,” Waters said. “We are living in a critical time where the choices we make will impact the future, either positively or negatively. We hope that this exhibit will inform and inspire visitors to protect this valuable resource.”

Alongside the opening day celebration of the “Water Shapes Florida” exhibit, the museum will host the following events:

Join the museum for Science Surprises and Monday with the Manatee Storytime to learn more about the amazing properties of water through enriching activities and demonstrations. The events are perfect for the whole family.

Test your knowledge of Florida’s water resources at Trivia Night: Water Shapes Florida, open to individuals and teams. Participants will have a chance to compete in one of three 20-question trivia games, each with a different theme relating to water, at 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., with each round’s first-place winner receiving a prize. The gift shop will be open until 8:30 p.m., but the museum’s “Discovery Zone,” “Antarctic Dinosaurs” and the “Butterfly Rainforest” will be closed for the evening.

food truck in front of museum
Food and drink will be available for purchase from B’z Gelati during the opening celebration on March 23. ©Florida Museum/Jivina Wilhoit

Free parking is available in the University of Florida Cultural Plaza parking lot and garage after 3:30 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends.

“Water Shapes Florida” was made possible by the generous support of museum donors and is sponsored in part by the 1923 Fund, Florida Division of Historical Resources, B.J. and Eve Wilder Family Foundation Inc., Duke Energy Foundation, Felburn Foundation, Anne and John Shermyen, Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, Giovanna Holbrook, Jack Martin, PepsiCo Foundation, Frances C. and William P. Smallwood Foundation and Rotary Club of Downtown Gainesville.

The opening celebration is sponsored by Cox and Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

For more information on the opening celebration, visit

For more information on the exhibit, visit or call 352-846-2000.


Writer: Kat Tran,
Sources: Julie Waters,; Janelle Pena,
Media contact: Kaitlin Gardiner,