MIRAMAR BEACH — A collection of 12 new art sculptures will soon find a home in the Gulf off the Emerald Coast.
People flooded Grand Boulevard's Town Center last week to attend Under the Sea: A fundraiser for the Underwater Museum of Art featuring Yacht Rock Schooner.
The event brought together organizers, guests and artists whose work will soon be featured in the underwater museum, which sits in about 60 feet of water about a mile off Grayton Beach State Park.
"It's just incredible to think about that good ideas grow and evolve over time, and this is a great idea that I never expected to have the reception that it's had globally," said Andy McAlexander, president of the South Walton Artificial Reef Association. "It's humbling, it's awesome and it's just getting going."
This year marked the 2nd annual installation of art into the exhibit. McAlexander said the sculptures will be submerged sometime in June.
He said he hoped to install seven to 12 new additions every year for "forever."
"One day, you'll go down there and it'll be ... a virtual forest of statues," McAlexander said. "It will become a bucket-list item for scuba divers."
Jim Richard, vice president of the Artificial Ref Association, said Thursday's event was aimed to raise money to have the new works installed.
He added that the underwater museum of art was the result of a "natural" partnership between his association and the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County.
"This is really two (nonprofit organizations) coming together to elevate really both projects," Richard said.
Artists selected for this year's installation include Boston's Gianna Stewart, whose sculpture "Depth of Decision" features a series of four doors opening from a center point at different angles.
"I've never scuba dived, but I imagine it's this vast expanse of almost nothing and to throw some sort of architecture down there I think is interesting, " Stewart said.
The thought of the museum's boundless setting was what inspired her to create "a doorway without a wall."
For others like Destin's Maxine Orange, the project was a chance to collaborate with a partner to help bring their creation to life.
"This process really put me outside of my comfort zone," said Orange, who added she's most commonly known as a painter. "Just having to work with specific materials only made it a challenge, and also just made it where I had to find the right people that I wanted to work with."
With the help of her partner Maurice Hunter, she created "Love Thyself," depicting a "confident" woman looking into a mirror.
In addition to attracting divers from around the world, Richard said the museum also boosts the ecology of the area.
Looking ahead, he and McAlexander hoped the museum will help South Walton continue to set itself apart.
"Every year, you get more natural growth, so it continues to evolve," he said. "SWARA is about creating living reefs for generations."