Scuba divers often observe massive schools of fish and beautiful coral reefs, but they usually leave the great works of art to the landlubbers. Now, those who enjoy underwater adventures and artistic enterprise can combine their passions. Visit Grayton Beach State Park in Walton County, Florida, and dive into the Gulf of Mexico to enjoy the Underwater Museum of Art (UMA), the continent’s first permanent underwater sculpture exhibit, which officially opened on June 25.
Divers travel about .7 miles (1 kilometer) from the coast and nearly 60 feet (18.3 meters) deep to reach UMA, where they can take in the inaugural seven sculptures, including The Grayt Pineapple by Rachel Herring, Anamorphous Octopus by Allison Wickey, and the SWARA Skull—the centerpiece of the museum—by Vince Tatum. The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County and the South Walton Artificial Reef Association requested submissions for this first installation from artists worldwide. The committee plans to select new works for the collection on an annual basis.
The museum occupies about one acre, and each sculpture has a dual purpose: to be enjoyed by a human audience and to attract aquatic life. As such, the works will become fully integrated as living reefs in time. The waters off the coast of Walton County are 95 percent barren sand flats, so adding these sculptures will bring life and a protective habitat to this part of the gulf, as well as provide research opportunities for marine biologists and other wildlife professionals and students.
Visitors must be certified divers who are comfortable swimming in open water. Those who fit the bill can schedule transportation to the dive site with Fishy Booty Charters. Snorkelers are welcome to view the installations from above. Although the museum is free, there is an entrance fee for the beach, and divers will need to pay for any other costs associated with making the dive.