Underwater Art Museum

A partnership between Visit South Walton, the Cultural Arts Alliance and the South Walton Artificial Reef Association

In late June of 2018, the first Underwater Museum of Art in the USA opened in the Gulf of Mexico less than a mile off South Walton’s white-sand beaches. The museum rests on the seafloor about 55-feet below the surface and in its first year was made up of seven unique sculptures created by local and nationally recognized artists who applied and were chosen by the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County to be part of this historic museum.

The deployment of these statues was made possible by a partnership between the CAA and the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA), along with the sponsorship of Visit South Walton. The site of the underwater sculpture garden is 0.7 miles off the coast of Grayton Beach, with the museum's central sculpture (the SWARA Skull) located at Latitude N 30 18.754, Longitude W 86 09.522. The CAA plans to continue to select artists and add to the underwater collection annually.

In addition to providing a site for SCUBA diving that will be unique in the world, the sculptures are designed and selected with their suitability as marine habitat in mind, so even in the absence of SCUBA divers, the Underwater Museum of Art is certain to have many visitors, including schools of baitfish, grouper, sea turtles and dolphins!

2018 Deployment

1. Propeller in Motion

PROPELLER IN MOTION is a design by artist and contemporary custom furniture creator Marek Anthony who resides in Dallas, Texas via Madrid, Spain. “Propeller in Motion” is an abstraction of a moving ship’s propeller being swallowed into the sea bed. 

2. SWARA Skull

SWARA SKULL designer Vince Tatum’s career as an Art Director and Production Designer in the film industry, along with being a NAUI DIVE MASTER, make “the UMA project a diver’s dream.” Standing 8 feet tall, “SWARA Skull” has a stainless steel jaw, nasal cavity and eye sockets.“For a diver, one of the most exciting things to do is shine your dive-light in a dark hole and see who is staring back at you,” said Tatum. “A large skull covered in coral and marine growth, teeming with life, makes for one hell of a photo-op.”

3. The Grayt Pineapple

THE GRAYT PINEAPPLE by Florida-based artist Rachel Herring is an 8-foot tall stainless steel sculpture of a pineapple designed to help small fish thrive. Herring has painted most of her life but has recently begun working with discarded wood and other found pieces. “What better way to bring new wildlife to the area than with a pineapple, the symbol of welcoming and hospitality,” said Herring.

4. Concrete Rope Reef Spheres

Evelyn Tickle’s CONCRETE ROPE REEF SPHERES are made using a patent pending clean concrete formula developed by the artist to match the chemical makeup of an oyster shell, specifically for underwater reef use. Tickle has invented hundreds of concrete formulas to enhance color, structure, sustainability and most recently, for underwater use to enhance marine habitat.

5. JYC's Dream

JYC’s DREAM is a creation by American designer Kevin Reilly as an homage to the “Aqualung,” arguably Jacques Cousteau’s greatest invention, and is a collaborative effort with the South Walton Montessori Academy primary students and their teachers. The sculpture, a larger-than-life diver’s head, is a model of captain Cousteau wearing the original version of his invention.

6. Anamorphous Octopus, created by 2011 VSW Artist of the Year Allison Wickey

ANAMORPHOUS OCTOPUS by artist and 2011 South Walton Artist of the Year Allison Wickey is comprised of 16 metal bars, each approximately one-half inch thick and 8 feet tall by 8 feet wide. A cultural fixture on 30A for years, Allison is known for her rustic depictions of gulf coast landscapes inspired by the thought of the area before any man-made structures were built.

7. Self Portrait

Justin Gaffrey’s SELF PORTRAIT stands eight feet tall and is inspired by other recent sculpture the Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. artist has created, however this sculpture will be created from welded stainless steel bar. Gaffrey is internationally known for his primary body of work in heavy acrylic impastos often one to six inches thick, but he enjoys challenging himself in vast mediums and creates free-standing sculptural works and paintings in his local studio.

2019 Deployment

The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) and South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) are proud to reveal the twelve sculpture designs selected by jury for permanent exhibition in the second installation of the Underwater Museum of Art (UMA). The Summer 2019 installation will include the following sculptures:

BUTTERY, will be a twelve-foot replica of one of Alys Beach's iconic butteries, which flank the town’s Hwy. 30A entrances, anchoring the beautiful town while welcoming its visitors. The butteries also house sixteen different murals depicting the history and heritage of the local area. Buttery will be fabricated by the Alys Beach construction team and sponsored by The Alys Foundation. 

TO REPLENISH WITH WATER is a design by Brazilian artist and marine researcher Beatriz Chachamovits. This sculptural piece approaches the theme of ocean degradation through the concept of coral bleaching. Like most of the artist’s interactive pieces, To Replenish with Water deals with the ephemeral state of the work and its forever changing quality, much like the ocean itself. Reversing the fate of this bleached piece to, in time, a ravishing coral colony is a powerful message in the battle against climate change.

WAVE! is a creation courtesy of American artist Benjamin Mefford. Benjamin is an interdisciplinary artist with a focus on sculpture. The sculpture, a larger-than-life hand, will be constructed to facilitate coral growth utilizing Kansas fencepost limestone columns to create the bulk of the sculpture. These repurposed columns are relics from early settlers who split each block using rudimentary techniques. 

George Sabra’s EL PLASTICO replicates a plastic bottle on a massive scale constructed of environmentally cast concrete. This representation of something that generally harms marine life can instead play a direct role in helping it flourish. Sabra offers, “As an environmental artist I create artwork that brings to light again and again the impact our current consumption is having on our environment.

SAGUARO by Arizona-based artist Ghazal Ghazi is an 8-foot tall stainless steel sculpture of a cactus designed to promote thriving marine life. The saguaro cactus is a unique, famous, and distinct cactus that only grows in the Sonoran Desert. The artist believes having a sculpture of a saguaro cactus on the bottom of the ocean floor will offer a unique juxtaposition carrying multiple layers of interpretation. 

DEPTH OF DECISION by Boston-based artist Gianna Stewart is a gesture for the ocean, a sunken series of decisions. Nuances to the cast concrete doors will be visible during its preview on land, and various openings in its structure and doors will serve as artificial reef for marine life. 

Husband and wife team, design duo, and dive buddies Ingram Ober and Marisol Rendon will co-create I FOUND IT! The sculpture will consist of elements relating to a lost pirate treasure. The central element will be a 6-7’ tall diamond ring consisting of a cast concrete band and a jewel fabricated with a stainless steel rod structure covered on the inside with expanded metal lath and covered in “Clean Concrete” to create a hollow volumetric diamond. 

LET’S NOT BLOW THIS is a creation by American designer Kevin Reilly. This piece represents the earth as a fragile dandelion. The hand represents man’s potential to restore and protect our environment. It is meant, now more than ever, as a hopeful call to do all that we can to preserve our natural world. 

LOVE THYSELF is a collaborative project between Artist/Designer Maxine Orange, Concept Designer Maurice Hunter, and Concrete Work Fabricator Rick Goetchius with mold creation from Digital Atelier LLC. The group shares that  “Being part of the UMA experience will be a great opportunity for us to express our passion for utilizing art to communicate meaningful ideas with the potential to make a social impact.” The theme is rooted in the concept of SELF-LOVE.

Florida-based artist Rachel Herring will construct an underwater FLAMINGLE. “Flamingos symbolize fun, relaxation, and socializing-- perfect description for this creation,” Rachel shares. She further notes, “The sculpture upholds my whimsical and playful art theme, and the shape of the columns along with the outlines of the flamingos will remain recognizable as growth occurs on the sculpture.” Rachel is also the creator of the 2018 UMA sculpture, The Grayt Pineapple.

ASPIRATION designer Shohini Gosh is a Denver-based artist originally from New Delhi, India. Aspiration is a silhouette of a young girl’s face looking up in the longing at the wonders of the future. The sculpture has a beautiful balance of negative and positive space through and around which fish and turtles may swim without hindrance and on which corals can grow. A snorkeling enthusiast and great lover of turtles, Shohini believes in bringing art outside the white walls of a gallery and into public spaces.

Artist Vince Tatum will pay homage to one of mother nature’s most amazing creations found on coral reefs, The Giant Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia muta) with his sculpture, X.MUTA. Vince explains, “My goal is to imitate mother nature’s blueprint as best I can, but with clean sprayed cement over rebar." While visiting X.muta, underwater museum of art divers can also check out Vince’s SWARA Skull which was part of the 2018 UMA installation. 

Follow these links for more information on the Underwater Museum of Art and Sponsorship Opportunities.

For more information on the South Walton Artificial Reef Association, upcoming projects and ways to support SWARA, visit: https://swarareefs.org