Column: “little free art gallery” pops up in Morro Bay


The mini art gallery trend got its start in Seattle, Washington

– You’ve heard of or seen these little free libraries, right? Well, this concept has grown and expanded into the world of fine art, and it is on display and available for purchase right here in Morro Bay, California.

Drive down Monterey Street between Driftwood and Anchor and there it is, a cute little handmade box shaped like a teeny house with a big window. Inside, artist Katherine Heistrand Shields is displaying small pieces of art for you to take with you, just look at, or leave your own. “You can take an artwork, leave an artwork, or just browse,” Shields said when I caught up with her after spotting one of her bookmarks at the Morro Bay Art Center.

Shields went on to explain that the idea is the same as the little free library where people can take a book to read and leave one if they feel like it. Small free libraries have sprung up everywhere, and some contain canned goods.Morro Bay Gallery

While the art must be small in the small art gallery, artists could display a photograph of an artwork and put a label on the back of the photograph stating who the artist is and where the original is housed. But even larger works of art can be photographed by anyone – all for free!

This isn’t a new idea that popped up in Morro Bay, it got its start from Stacy Milrany of Seattle, Washington. Milrany valued art and the creativity of artists, and combined her love for the little free libraries in her head with the hope of bringing some light, beauty, and maybe a little ease into a “tough world and a catastrophic year.” This is how she founded the Little Free Art Gallery in Seattle, which opened on December 13, 2020.

The seed for the tiny galleries grew out of Milrany’s efforts to cheer up her mother, who was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer in 2019. Since her mother lived three hours away from her, she sent her a small postcard-sized work of art every day. “It was something man-made to add some brightness,” she wrote on her website. Her mother collected 145 artworks measuring 10 x 15 cm that were full of beauty and color and gave her optimism as she journeyed through her cancer journey.FLAG MB3[22491]

In March 2020, when we were all safe at home due to COVID-19, Milrany wondered if she could offer some optimism to more people, and she began sending similar art postcards to friends and family. It was her way of coping with being cut off from the world and an attempt to bring some “light and ease” to others. The small works of art and her love for the small libraries eventually ignited her idea for the Little Free Art Gallery, which has changed its name to the Free Little Art Gallery (FLAG).

A friend helped her build a small structure outside her home and in the first 30 days about 90 small works of art came and went from different people.

Now these FLAGs are popping up everywhere. Shields recently visited one in Palo Alto. FLAG-MB is a cute little cottage attached to posts on the fence in front of her house. Shields is ready to share ideas for more free small art galleries and you can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Instagram at @flagmb. Better yet, why not stop by and find a work of art that speaks to you and take it home? Then create something yourself and share it!

As Milrany wrote on her website, “Art is many things. Beneath that is simply proof of human existence, and when we are cut off from one another as we are in this pandemic, that matters more than ever. It serves as another reminder that when we can’t physically be there for each other, we’re still here together, sharing this common human experience called life.”

–By columnist Ruth Ann Angus


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