This week, the nation’s first permanent Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) opened in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park in South Walton, Fla.
The UMA is the first presentation of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)’s Art In Public Spaces Program and was produced in collaboration with the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA). The purpose of the UMA is to create art that becomes marine habitat, expanding fishery populations and providing enhanced creative, cultural, economic and educational opportunities for the benefit, education and enjoyment of residents, students and visitors in South Walton.
On June 25, seven sculptures became part of the inaugural UMA installation: “Propeller in Motion” by Marek Anthony, “Self-Portrait” by Justin Gaffrey, “The Grayt Pineapple” by Rachel Herring, “JYC’s Dream” by Kevin Reilly, “SWARA Skull” by Vince Tatum, “Concrete Rope Reef Spheres” by Evelyn Tickle and “Anamorphous Octopus” by Allison Wickey. Around 80 onlookers, including many of the artists and project partners, were on site to view the historic deployment.
“After nearly two years of planning and fundraising, it was a surreal hour watching the artwork being lowered into the Gulf of Mexico,” said CAA Executive Director Jennifer Steele. “From the moment Allison Wickey, our board president, brought this idea to the table as a co-project with SWARA, we have been encouraged by the excitement from and support by our local community and the national and international interest it has received. It has been a wonderfully challenging experience for the CAA to reach outside our comfort zone to make this vision a reality, and it could not have happened without our partnership with SWARA and contributions from Visit South Walton, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Alys Foundation, Visit Florida and all of the sculpture sponsors who wanted to be a part of this unique project.”
The UMA was deployed with SWARA’s existing USACOA and FDEP permitted artificial reef project that includes nine nearshore reefs located within one nautical mile of the shore in approximately 50-60 feet of water. A one-acre permit patch of seabed off Grayton Beach State Park has been dedicated to the CAA for the purpose of a permanent underwater sculpture exhibit. The UMA patch will continue to be filled with several sculptures annually.
“The perspective when viewing the sculptures in a marine environment is drastically different than when on land,” said SWARA Board President Andy McAlexander who dove the UMA site right after the deployment took place. “The intent of the project was proven within an hour of deployment when we could see schools of bait fish swarming the structures, completely validating the entire effort. I have never been prouder to have had the privilege to work with such talented and visionary people in my life. This project has changed my perspective towards art.”
Admission to the UMA is free. No ticket or reservation is required. However, there is a fee to enter Grayton Beach State Park. The UMA is only accessible in person as a dive location. Divers who wish to visit the site can take a dive boat .7 miles off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park. The coordinates for the center sculpture (SWARA Skull) are Latitude N30 18 45.262 Longitude W086 09 33.722. Out of respect for the art, boaters are asked to find the center location and then move away from the park to anchor in order to avoid damage to the artwork.
Visit UMAFL.org for information about dive shops, tours and obtaining your certification while visiting South Walton. There will also be photos and videos of the sculptures online, which will be updated periodically, in order to document the marine growth on each sculpture.
The 2018 UMA installation is presented by Visit South Walton with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Alys Foundation, Visit Florida, 30A.com, 30A Coastal Dunes Wine Company, BOTE, Bud & Alley’s Restaurant, and O.B. Laurent Construction. Special thanks to both Walter Marine and Galati Yachts for their partnership in the deployment.
Artists interested in submitting artwork for consideration to the 2019 UMA installation can visit UMAFL.org to complete a pre-application.