There are plenty of reasons to visit Grayton Beach. Most tourists will cite the beautiful beaches as well as the rare coastal dune lakes. They might talk about the restaurants and bars nearby. However, Grayton Beach has one other significant pull going for it that separates it from just any beach resort. It’s this hidden feature that’s been rated one of the World’s Greatest Places by TIME Magazine, and it’s certainly one of the most unique places. It’s the Underwater Museum of Art.
You read that right: an entire art museum fully submerged in water, and it’s one of the few in the world. This museum is a wonder for art lovers, ocean lovers, or those who simply long to see something different on their Grayton Beach vacation.
A New Arrival
The Underwater Museum of Art only opened this summer, though it’s been in planning for some time. Allison Wickey, the artist, Emerald Coast native, and mastermind of the museum’s conception, was initially inspired by watching the creation of artificial reefs. She worked with the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, the Art in Public Spaces Program, and The South Walton Artificial Reef Association to bring the idea to reality. This underwater museum is one of three in the world, along with Museo Subacuático de Arte in Cancun and Museo Atlántico Lanzarote in Spain.
Why Artificial Reefs
While artificial reefs may sound like a strange artistic choice, they actually have a very real impact on the underwater ecosystem of the Gulf Coast. The vast majority of coastal waters off Walton County are made up of barren sand flats, with few natural reefs. Creating artificial reefs adds to the ecosystem, protecting and replenishing the marine life that live there. Artists make artistic statues to serve as these artificial reefs, drawing in a variety of sea life. Not only is it a unique medium of art, but it also helps to educate visitors about the importance of creating artificial reefs and preserving marine life.
What You’ll See
The UMA already has a number of sculptures, though artists can apply for the 2019 season on their website. One of the most distinct pieces is the SWARA SKULL, designed by Vince Tatum. 8 feet tall and made with stainless steel, it looks almost like something out of a pirate adventure movie. Some are more beachy or natural, like Rachel Herring’s THE GRAYT PINEAPPLE or Evelyn Tickle’s CONCRETE ROPE REEF SPHERES. You can also find Wickey’s own ANAMORPHOUS OCTOPUS.
Best of all, admission to the Underwater Museum of Art is free — with a caveat. There is a small fee for admission to Grayton Beach State Park, $5 per vehicle and $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists, and extra passengers. The only way to access the UMA is through the state park. In fact, the only way to access the Underwater Museum of Art is through a dive site. Still, just $5 to see one of the World’s Greatest Places — both in the opinion of TIME magazine and our own opinion — seems a small price to pay.