Small free art galleries are popping up in the Bay Area

When you walk past an art gallery, it’s usually pretty easy to predict with just a glance what kind of art you’ll find there. At the very least, you can usually count on artwork larger than 3 inches by 3 inches. And it certainly won’t be free.

But the “art gallery” on Georgia Street, between Maple Avenue and Laurel Avenue in Oakland, is not your typical art gallery. It looks like what most people probably now recognize as a “Little Free Library” box. But instead of books inside, Allie St. Amand’s box is filled with artwork donated by her community.

St. Amand, a 10-year Oakland resident, read about the first small free art gallery in early 2021. A Seattle artist had created one as part of a pandemic project and not only did it facilitate an art exchange in the Queen Anne district, the community got to know each other better. St. Amand knew she wanted to bring that to Lower Dimond during another difficult time of COVID-19. “Books are great, but art sparks a little something different for some of us,” St. Amand said. “I think it’s so joyful.”

She started gathering materials to build her own box and began documenting her journey on social media. She works in human resources, but is also a photographer and paints in her spare time. So she figured she could put some of her own work in the box to start with. Then her social media account started gaining followers and artists started reaching out to her. Before she knew it, she had more art to start the project than she could even fit into the box. People have even contacted her from out of state. She said this overwhelming support has continued and she will keep extra pieces inside her home and replace items in the box when space becomes available.

St. Amand was immediately impressed by the diversity of mediums. Although tiny paintings are most often provided, there have been photographs, ceramics, jewelry, colored rocks, stickers, and even a tiny beaded koala included in the gallery. The operation is mostly on its own these days, and she said she’s amazed there’s never been a day in almost a year where there’s no more art. .

The Little Free Art Gallery on Georgia Street, between Maple Avenue and Laurel Avenue in Oakland.

Gabriel Lehman

Local artist Emily Gutman, who lives near the gallery, both contributed art and brought items home. She said it was a great way to meet her neighbors and now pieces she took from the gallery adorn the mantle of her house, along with other artwork she’s collected over the years. years.

It’s also nice to have another place to share the art she creates. “It’s a terrific new creative outlet,” Gutman said. “Sometimes you’re inspired but you’re not sure what to do with the finished product.”

Now she knows that if a piece is small enough, she can take it to the gallery. She has recently created some watercolor collages and a few mini quilts (about 3 inches by 3 inches).

The idea caught on and clubs popped up in the East Bay. There are other small free art galleries in the Allendale and Oakmore neighborhoods of Oakland, as well as one in Berkeley.

Gutman said she just hopes people know these pieces are for everyone and everyone is encouraged to contribute, regardless of age or skill set. People also shouldn’t be shy about bringing home something they love. “The most important thing is not to be shy, you’re allowed to take things from there,” she said.

Mildred D. Field