Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) takes the plunge off the coast of Florida

The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) takes the plunge off the coast of Florida.  North America’s first permanent underwater exhibit aims to boost both cultural and environmental aims in South Walton on the Gulf of Mexico. 

Why walk around a museum when you can swim around it? The USA’s first permanent underwater attraction has been created by the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) alongside the South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA). The project also has support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Alys Foundation, and Visit Florida.

At a depth of around 50 feet, it’s been designed for exploration by divers (although ambitious free divers could also take the plunge).

The Underwater Museum of Art launches the CAA’s Art in Public Spaces Programme. It also dovetails with SWARA’s mission. At present the coastal waters off the region of Walton County comprise 95 percent barren sand flats. The association is committed to creating improved marine habitats and expanding fishery populations on the one hand.

Sculptures, along with artificial reefs, will offer a protective marine habitat and the chance for biological replenishment.

SWARA already has an ongoing artificial reef project which encompasses nine nearshore reefs. These are situated with around a nautical mile from the shore at a depth of 50-60 feet of water.

The CAA has been given a one-acre area of seabed situated off Grayton Beach State Park. The site is dedicated for a permanent underwater sculpture exhibit.

Seven designs

Seven sculptures have been chosen by a jury for permanent exhibition.

  • Propeller in Motion by Marek Anthony suggests a ship’s propeller being swallowed by the sea bed. It is permeable to light, sea water and living creatures.
  • Self Portrait by Justin Gaffrey stands eight feet tall and comprises a series of animals created from welded stainless steel.
  • The Grayt Pineapple by Rachel Herring is an eight foot stainless steel pineapple, designed to help small fish thrive.
  • JYC’s Dream by Kevin Reilly in collaboration with students from South Walton Montessori School is a homage to the aqualung – a larger-than-life diver’s head.
  • SWARA Skull by Vince Tatum is an eight-foot tall skull. “A large skull covered in coral and marine growth, teeming with life, makes for one hell of a photo-op,” says Tatum.
  • Concrete Rope Reef Spheres by Evelyn Tickle matches the chemical makeup of an oyster shell. Rope spheres will have artificial concrete oyster shells attached, providing places for marine creatures to attach.
  • Anamorphous Octopus by Allison Wickey is comprised of 16 metal bars. The viewer will need to see the sculpture from a certain vantage point to make sense of the image.

Although UMA is breaking new water in North America, it is not the first in the world. MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte) was launched in 2009 in the waters around Cancun and now boasts over 500 sculptures.

Meanwhile the Museo Atlántico, off the coast of Lazarote in Spain features around 200 life-size human figures, some modelled after local residents. The first part of the project is already attracting angel sharks, barracuda and octopus. It also contains a botanic garden.

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