Natick Sudbury Southborough small free art galleries offer culture

SUDBURY — See s. Take art. Let the art.

Several small free art galleries across the country follow this mantra.

Last year, this whimsical idea became popular at three MetroWest locations – Sudbury, Natick and Southborough – that make art a fun bonding experience.

“My biggest passion is…to bring art to the community and make it less brainy and everyone can be involved,” said Bethany Shaw, freelance graphic designer and member of the Sudbury Art Association for seven years.

A Gallery was installed in May outside Goodnow Library, an idea that lasted about four years.

Anna Ryan, left, and Bethany Shaw of Sudbury with the Free Little Art Gallery they created in front of Goodnow Library in Sudbury.  Visitors can bring and/or bring pieces to the gallery.

Initially Shaw was inspired by the small free libraries that were popping up all over the country and wanted to create something similar for art. But nothing followed.

Last fall, inspiration struck when Shaw read an article about a small free art gallery in the Pacific Northwest and started following a gallery in Natick.

One day, while volunteering at the Goodnow Library makerspace in Sudbury, Shaw mentioned the idea to the makerspace coordinator and the library manager. Both were eager to create it and host the gallery.

Within a month the facility was built and “everyone was so excited about it…after four years of hemming and hawing it came together in a month just because we mentioned it at the library,” Shaw said.

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Anna Ryan – an artist and art educator who teaches at the Danforth Art Museum at Framingham State University – met Shaw and joined the project while volunteering at the makerspace.

“(The gallery) is really just for everyone and I’ve always liked the idea of ​​art for everyone,” Ryan said. “It brings a bit of joy to the community.”

The small free art gallery in front of the Goodnow Library in Sudbury is full of pieces for visitors to take away.  Local artists can also bring their work to the gallery.

When the gallery seems a little empty, Shaw and Ryan like to bring in their own art.

“I find it really freeing and…normally when it would have been in a pile of dust somewhere, I just glue it on as I go,” Shaw said. “I keep a box in my art car that people gave me to put in the gallery.”

When people of all ages and skills contribute, “it’s part of the magic of the little free art gallery,” Ryan said.

A fun and welcoming gathering space

The artist duo encourages the accessibility of art and wants to change the way people define the word.

“It’s fun to use the word ‘gallery’ because I think it can be an intimidating word and only established artists have their work in a gallery,” Ryan said. “It’s really nice to spread that meaning and turn it into a fun and welcoming gathering space.”

Bethany Shaw holds her watercolour, one of the pieces available at the Free Little Art Gallery, in front of Goodnow Library in Sudbury.

Everyone is welcome to take and leave artwork, but here are a few guidelines: pieces cannot exceed 4 by 4 inches, must be handmade, and patrons must be respectful of the art and from the gallery.

But, “the biggest guideline is to enjoy it,” Shaw said.

If people don’t live in Sudbury but would like to share artwork, send them to Sara Sherman NOW Lab, 21 Concord Road, Sudbury, MA 01776.

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The gallery received a $775 grant from the Sudbury Cultural Council to create free art kits.

Every two months, Shaw and Ryan plan to create around 100 kits with different themes that will also go into local pantries, libraries and other small free galleries – part of the public art project. Take and create.

Anna Ryan holds her mixed media collage, one of the pieces available at the Free Little Art Gallery in front of the Goodnow Library in Sudbury.

They also make their own kits – stuffing envelopes with scrap paper, crayons and other donated supplies. Kids or anyone looking to tap into their creative side can find the free art kits and supplies in the gallery.

Shaw is also one of the first artists to contribute to the Natick Gallery. She then contacted Denise Girardin to help make it a reality in Sudbury.

Girardin – a photographer who also owns a studio where she creates “a bit of everything” in downtown Natick – founded Natick Gallery alongside Ginger McEachern, owner of Five Crows Gallery.

Anna Ryan, left, and Bethany Shaw, both of Sudbury, pose in front of the Free Little Art Gallery they created in front of Goodnow Library in Sudbury.  Visitors are encouraged to bring or bring pieces to the gallery.

Girardin noticed that many galleries were in front of houses, but wanted to organize such an art sharing experience in a public place.

After approval from the Morse Institute Library, McEachern’s husband built the miniature gallery, “and it just took off,” Girardin said.

“Canned Art”

“It would give artists an opportunity to put their art in a box and make art more accessible to people who don’t necessarily buy art…it just seemed like a perfect fit,” he said. she declared.

A core group of artists and volunteers monitor the gallery daily, keeping it clean and ensuring artwork is always stored. One of Girardin’s favorite aspects of being part of the gallery is connecting with passers-by.

“(When visitors) say look what I found…my mother just died and this photo of a bluebird and bluebirds was her favorite thing,” she said. “Things like this happen so often and it feels really good to be a part of it.”

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Some galleries, such as those in Sudbury and Natick, have come about through the Small free library movement, started by Todd H. Bol in 2009 in memory of his mother. Today, there are more than 150,000 small free libraries.

Girardin said the project is “absolutely an inspiration” that helped create the small free art galleries. A few years ago, she was among the artists who helped paint one of the free boxes in the South Natick library.

“It’s like a little free library, (except) instead of taking books and putting books in there, you put art in there and you take it out,” she said.

The role of social networks

Girardin said the pandemic helped start the movement because people couldn’t enter libraries or galleries to see art.

However, the power of social media should not be minimized.

“What’s really touching is that someone goes to the gallery and posts a photo of this piece and talks about why they chose it – it’s so special, so special,” Girardin said. “Instagram and Facebook have been huge for making this happen.”

Similar to the Sudbury gallery, the Natick gallery will occasionally offer free art supplies, such as jewelry beads, to the public donated by artists and volunteers.

The two galleries would like to collaborate in the future — potentially for community kindness or holiday-themed projects, Shaw said.

“A lot of people feel like they can’t take anything if they haven’t put anything in and that’s something we’re always trying to clear up,” Girardin said. “You can put your hand in there and take anything that speaks to you.”

Mildred D. Field