Last week, eight new sculptures were added to the nation’s first permanent Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park in South Walton, Fla.
Named by TIME Magazine as one of 100 “World’s Greatest Places,” the UMA is the first presentation of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)’s Art In Public Spaces Program and is 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.
This installation includes the following sculpture: Bee Grayt by Katie Witherspoon (Santa Rosa Beach, FL), Building Blocks by Zachery Long (Oklahoma City, OK), Dawn Dancers by Shohini Ghosh (Highlands Ranch, CO), Eco-Bug by Priscila D’Brito (Boca Raton, FL), El Plastico by George Sabra (Georgetown, TX), From The Depths by Kirk Seese (Lutherville, MD), Hope by Jonathan Burger (New Bern, NC) and Three Wishes by Marisol Rendón and Ingram Ober (San Diego, CA).
On February 3rd, around 50 socially distanced onlookers, including many of the artists and project partners, were on site to view the historic deployment.
With support from Visit South Walton, The Alys Foundation, Visit Florida, the National Endowment for the Arts, Walter Marine/The Reefmaker, and the Florida Department of State Division of Cultural Affairs, the sculptures were 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 58 feet of water. This installation joins the seventeen sculptures previously deployed on a one-acre permit patch of seabed off Grayton Beach State Park, expanding the nation’s first permanent underwater museum to a total of 25 sculptures. The UMA patch will continue to be filled with several new sculptures annually.
Individual sculptures are sponsored by 30A Company, Beachy Blooms, Bud & Alley’s Restaurant, Hilton Sandestin Golf Beach Resort & Spa, the St. Joe Community Foundation, Visit South Walton, Noreen & Kevin Dooney, and Kasja Larsson & JoAnn Ribaudo. A special thanks goes out to the fishing captains who transported artists, sponsors and guests to the deployment site to witness the installation, including Van R. Butler, III with Family Tradition Charters, Captain Cole Taylor of Grayton Coast Rentals, Scott Provow of Grayton Beach Charters, Mark Thompson of Fishy Booty Charters, and Mike Valentino of Trigger Happy Fishing Charters.
“The UMA artists, fabricators, partners, and deployment team put much time, energy, resources and passion by into building the UMA, and the CAA is grateful for the dedication of all involved, especially during this difficult past year,” said CAA Executive Director Jennifer Steele. “We are particularly thankful to SWARA, Walton County, and project founder Allison Wickey for their constant support to ensure the UMA grows each year as a diving and marine education destination.”
“It may have been a chilly morning, but it warmed my soul to see UMA’s third year sculptures sink beneath the surface this February. It’s been inspiring to see the artists’ fantastically unique ideas come to life and witness the evolution of the art pieces over the years that have measurably enhanced the marine habitat and created new interactive opportunities for the site. SWARA’s partnership with the Cultural Arts Alliance isn’t just a home run – it’s a grand slam,!” said SWARA President Walt Hartley. “We are continually humbled and impressed by our amazing community and look forward to building a lasting legacy of innovation, teamwork, and awareness for our future generations.”
Admission to the UMA is free, however, the site is only accessible in person as a dive location. Divers who wish to visit the site can take a dive boat .93 miles off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park. The coordinates for the center sculpture (SWARA Skull) are N 30*18.754 W 30*09.562. 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 more information about dive shops, tours and obtaining your certification while visiting South Walton. Photos and videos of the sculptures will continue to be updated online periodically to document the marine growth on each sculpture.
Both SWARA and the CAA wish to extend special thanks to our deployment partner, Walter Marine, for their dedication to excellence in helping bring our vision into reality.
Artists interested in submitting artwork for consideration to the 2022 UMA installation can visit UMAFL.org to complete a pre-application in anticipation of an Artist Call announcement in Spring 2021.