A new art gallery — as wide as the length of a guitar and as deep as the height of a bread knife — is the new hot spot for palm-sized art in New West.
Located at 815 Edinburgh St., the (10- by 42-inch) gallery is free for anyone to browse through the smorgasbord of mini artworks and pick what they like.
It’s much like the Little Free Libraries that dot the city, but for art, noted Fulton Tom, who launched FLAG (Free Little Art Gallery) around Christmas 2022 with a display of tiny snowflake ornaments as a “gift to the community.”
Parked right outside his house, "like an election lawn sign board," Tom has seen people stop by to look in, take pieces of art, and also place their art inside.
Unlike other art galleries where artworks are strictly curated and so often beyond one’s budget, this gallery follows a more laid-back approach where anyone — hobby or professional artists — can place their creations to be snapped up for free.
“There are really no restrictions on sharing art other than the fact that the cabinet is quite small. So, the art that goes in has to be fairly little,” said Tom, who manages the floating inventory — often posting photos of new items that come in, on the gallery’s Instagram page.
An idea born out of a road trip
Tom came across the concept by chance, when he was planning a vacation to California with his family in 2022. He had come across an article about a free little gallery when googling for art galleries to visit in the city of Berkeley.
“When I saw that, I thought, ‘Well, this is a fantastic idea,’" he said.
"Before we set out on the trip, I brought some things that I've made in the past and some craft supplies to leave in the free art gallery,” added Tom, who has dabbled in stained glass and fibre arts, origami, cross stitching and crochet.
He found three such galleries in Berkeley.
“As I looked more about these free little art galleries on the Internet, I realized that there is a whole community of them,” he said, referring to a website called Find a Free Little Art Gallery that includes locations of such galleries around the world.
“Most of them appeared during COVID. I think it was a response to social distancing and the fact that museums and galleries were closed during the time. Many artists had no way to visit galleries. So, some of them installed a free little art gallery outside their home, and used it as a way to engage the community to share and see art.”
On their drive back from Berkeley, Tom and his family stopped at free little galleries in Seattle, Bainbridge Island and Bellingham in Washington State.
By the time he got back home, he couldn't wait to start one in New West.
A "big proponent of reducing waste," he got an old curio cabinet off Craigslist, separated the stand from a discarded kitchen table and fused them to build a functional little gallery. One of his neighbours helped him cut an old door, also found on Craigslist, to be repurposed as a roof for the gallery.
“I'm pretty certain that my gallery is the first such in New Westminster because I haven't heard of anything like it around here,” said Tom.
“There are a few in Vancouver (as per Find a Free Little Art Gallery, there are five in B.C.); and some of them are not publicized very broadly. So it's hard for people to find them.”
The future of FLAG
Though just a little over a month old, the gallery has received anonymous donations of craft supplies, a neighbourhood small grant from the Vancouver Foundation to hold a launch party and a grant from the City of New Westminster for social and cultural vibrancy.
“It's a grant for involvement. The city is providing some funds which we are using to get a few craft kits to put in the gallery.”
Tom also started a FLAG collective that includes artist Merril Hall, a nominee for the 2022 Artist of the Year at the Platinum Awards and a member of New West's Garden Gals, and two students from New Westminster Secondary School, besides himself, to discuss ideas to run it — solo art shows and a block party with art demos are in the works.
“We are also connecting with people who have little galleries in other areas,” said Hall. “We had some art mailed to us from Washington — collage pieces from the owners of the free little gallery in Bellingham.”
“I'm hoping that as more people discover the gallery, more residents will make little pieces of art to go into it,” added Tom.
As someone who enjoys making art that's not necessarily for sale, Tom finds the gallery especially useful to share his works. And having retired earlier this year as an economics instructor at Langara College, Tom is ready to make this "little" project his big priority.
“After all, it's these sort of little community initiatives that I think really make a city a wonderful place to live in,” he said.
New West’s Free Little Art Gallery is located at 815 Edinburgh St. Follow the gallery's Instagram page for updates on new artworks.