The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) in partnership with the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) join two of South Walton’s most cherished resources, the arts and the Gulf of Mexico, with the Underwater Museum of Art (UMA). Named by TIME Magazine as one of 100 of the “World’s Greatest Places,” the UMA is the first and only permanent underwater sculpture museum in the U.S. located off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park in South Walton.
The UMA has been featured in online and print publications including National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Travel & Leisure, Newsweek, The New York Times and more. As part of the CAA’s Art In Public Spaces program, the UMA also augments SWARA’s mission of creating marine habitat and expanding fishery populations while providing enhanced cultural, economic and educational opportunities for the benefit, education and enjoyment of area residents, including students and visitors. The project is supported by Visit South Walton, the National Endowment for the Arts, Visit Florida, The Alys Foundation and the Florida Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture.
Artist applications are in and the CAA has obtained a panel of arts and marine environment specialists to review the applications and select proposals for completion and installation. They will be considering a demonstrated history of collaboration completing large- and small-scale public art projects. Then the selected artists will be commissioned to develop design proposals and create a 3D piece of original artwork to be permanently installed in the Underwater Museum of Art. Each artist will receive a $6,500 stipend inclusive of design fees, materials, labor, fabrication, construction, packing materials, shipping and transportation.
Once selections are made, artists will be notified and have approximately five months to complete and deliver work to Walton County where the completed sculptures will be exhibited on land before being transported to Walter Marine in Orange Beach, Ala., to be attached to custom pedestals. Sculptures will then be taken by barge to the Gulf and carefully submerged at roughly 60 feet to the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.
The UMA is produced in conjunction with SWARA’s existing USACOE and FDEP permitted artificial reef project that includes nine nearshore reefs located within one nautical mile of the shore in approximately 60 feet of water. The first phase of the UMA project included seven pieces of sculpture installed in June 2018 with the second phase of ten more sculptures deployed in June 2019 and the third phase, which was postponed due to the pandemic, of eight sculptures was successfully deployed in February 2021 bringing the total number of UMA sculptures to 25.
Through the CAA’s Art on Demand program and in partnership with Alys Beach, 30A.com, Dive30A and Florida Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture, the sculptures are periodically highlighted with a virtual Art on Demand event where you can discover this buried treasure. The most recent episode highlighted how this permanent sculpture garden came to exist from concept to creation and all points in between. The sculptures quickly attract a wide variety of marine life and, over time, metamorphize into a living reef providing a much-needed habitat for local marine life and fisheries as well as providing marine scientists, wildlife management professionals, ecologists, and students, with an opportunity to study marine life and measure the impact of artificial reef systems on the Gulf ecosystem.
This event is viewable post-premiere on the CAA’s website at CulturalArtsAlliance.com. Check the 30A Facebook page for upcoming virtual and other events. For project sponsorship information, visit UMAFL.org.
SWARA is a grass-roots, 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to raising funds to build permitted, beach accessible, artificial reefs in the gulf coastal waters of South Walton County Florida for the benefit and health of environment and community. To join SWARA in making a difference, visit SwaraReefs.org.