The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) - CODAworx

The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA)

Client: Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)

Location: Santa Rosa Beach, FL, United States

Completion date: 2022

Project Team

Project Producer

Jennifer Steele

Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)

Project Producer

Allison Wickey

Project Producer

Walt Hartley

South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA)

Project Collaborator

Jim Richard

South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA)

Project Collaborator

Andy McAlexander

South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA)

Project Collaborator

Stewart Walter

Walter Marine - Reefmaker

Environmental Coordinator

Melinda Gates

Walton County Board of County Commissioners

Marketing Director

Melissa Wheeler

Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)

Marketing & Programs Manager

Courtney Malone

Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)

Membership & Development Manager

Gabby Callaway

Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)

Director of Administration

Lee Greene

Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)

Finance Manager

Michelle Touchstone

Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)

Program Manager

Pam Singh

Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)

Events Director

Allie Anderson

Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA)


North America’s first underwater permanent sculpture exhibit was created by The Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County (CAA) in partnership with South Walton Artificial Reef Association (SWARA) and with support from Visit South Walton, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Alys Foundation, and Visit Florida. The Underwater Museum of Art (UMA) joined two of Walton County, Florida’s most beloved attractions – the Arts and the Gulf of Mexico.

The UMA is a component of the CAA’s Art In Public Spaces Program and augments 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 Walton County.

Currently, Gulf coastal waters off Walton County are 95% barren sand flats. Deployment of sculpture as artificial reefs 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 Grayton Beach State Park in 58-feet of water.

The total number of sculptures will expand to 40 in 2023.


UMA utilizes art in a non-traditional way for problem solving while supporting the Gulf and our community through conservation efforts, education and ecotourism. UMA is not only a stunning display of human talent and creativity; it also serves an important ecological role. The purpose is for each sculpture to become part of the environment, enhancing it and stimulating the ecosystem.

The sculptures provide structure for small species of fish and invertebrates, making it an ideal breeding ground. The baitfish that are attracted to the sculptures bring with them larger predators, helping to keep the ecosystem in balance. In addition, the museum provides a safe haven for young fish to grow and mature before moving out into the open ocean.

As a result, the Underwater Museum of Art plays a vital role in supporting marine life. By promoting the growth of marine life, artificial reefs play an important role in the health of our oceans.


The UMA artist call is open each year to artists and artist teams from around the country and beyond. While a demonstrated history of collaboration completing large- and small-scale public art projects is preferred, all artist applications are considered.

The CAA convenes a panel of arts and marine environment specialists to carefully. review the applications and select proposals for completion and installation.

The selected artists are commissioned to develop design proposals and create a 3D piece of original artwork to be permanently installed in the Underwater Museum of Art.

Each artist receives a stipend inclusive of design fees, materials, labor, fabrication, construction, packing materials, shipping, and transportation. All materials are vetted to conform to permit. Artists must take into account the presence of boat anchors in and around UMA site and are required to make their best effort in the design to mitigate risk of damage to artwork by anchors. Hollow, voluminous designs must include a top-side turtle escape of 36".

Artists have approximately five months to complete and deliver work to Walter Marine in Orange Beach, AL to be attached to custom pedestals. Sculptures are taken by barge and carefully submerged to the floor of the Gulf of Mexico in Walton County.

Additional Information

Fun Facts About UMA: 1)The UMA is the first permanent underwater sculpture garden in the U.S. 2) UMA was named in 2018 by TIME Magazine as one of 100 “World’s Greatest Places”. 3) More than 100 species of animal and plant life have been observed and documented in the short time that UMA artwork has been in place in the Gulf of Mexico. 4) Artists from around the world submit their designs as part of the open artist call. Our first international sculpture was "THE SEED AND THE SEA "by artist Davide Galbiati from France. 5) Each sculpture is 3,000+ lbs to ensure its placement along the floor of the Gulf is secure.