In 2018, The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) in partnership with Visit South Walton, South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) and support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Alys Foundation, and Visit Florida joined two of South Walton, Florida’s most beloved attractions – the arts and the Gulf of Mexico – with the introduction of The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA), North America’s first underwater permanent sculpture exhibit.
The UMA is the first presentation of the CAA’s Art In Public Spaces Program and will augment SWARA’s mission of creating marine habitat and expanding fishery populations while providing enhanced creative, cultural, economic and educational opportunities for the benefit, education and enjoyment of residents, students and visitors in South Walton.
Currently, Gulf coastal waters off Walton County are 95% barren sand flats. Deployment of sculpture as artificial reefs will provide a source of biological replenishment and protective marine habitat where none exists. 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.
CULTURAL ARTS ALLIANCE OF WALTON COUNTY
The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) is a Local Arts Agency that supports the arts through leadership, advocacy, funding, programs and education. The vision of the CAA is to be the catalyst for Walton County’s growth as a destination for cultural and artistic excellence through which lives are enriched, economy is stimulated and community is strengthened. The CAA’s annual events such as 30A Songwriters Festival and ArtsQuest draw thousands of visitors to Walton County and enhance its economy.
SOUTH WALTON ARTIFICIAL REEF ASSOCIATION
The South Walton Artificial Reef Association is a grass-roots, non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the construction, deployment, and monitoring of permitted artificial reefs in Walton County’s Gulf of Mexico coastal waters for the benefit and health of environment and community. The idea for SWARA was borne out of concerns over the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The thought was “what can we do to help our community become more aware of our unique natural resources by enhancing their connection to this environment?” Our solution to this question is to create a series of near-shore artificial reef systems along Walton County’s Gulf of Mexico coastline and Eastern Choctawhatchee Bay waters. These reefs will combine the characteristics of this unique coastal environment with the County’s primary economic engine– tourism. In so doing, we could provide a WIN-WIN-WIN situation for residents, visitors, and the environment. Building beach-accessible, artificial reef habitat systems is a unique approach that provides tremendous economic and quality-of-life opportunities.