Chronicle: “a small free art gallery” appears in Morro Bay

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

– You’ve heard of or seen these little free libraries, haven’t you? Well, that concept has grown and spread to the visual arts world, and it’s on display and available here in Morro Bay, CA.

Walk down Monterey Street between Driftwood and Anchor and voila, a cute little craft box in the shape of a tiny house with a big window. Inside, artist Katherine Heistrand Shields displays small art objects that you can take away, or just look at, or leave one of your own. “It’s take an artwork, leave an artwork, or just browse,” Shields said when I met her after discovering one of her bookmarks at the Morro Bay Art Center.

Shields went on to explain that the idea is the same as the free little library where people can pick up a book to read and leave one if they feel like it. Small free libraries have sprung up all over the place and some include canned foods.morro bay gallery

While the art in the small art gallery should be small, artists can display a photo of an artwork and include a tag on the back of the photo stating who the artist is and where the photo is. original. However, even the larger art photos are there for anyone to take – all for free!

It’s not a new idea that suddenly popped up in Morro Bay, it got its start with Stacy Milrany of Seattle, Washington. Milrany appreciated the artistry and creativity of artists and with her love of free little libraries in her mind, she combined them with the hope of shedding some light, beauty and perhaps a bit of levity on a ” heavy world and a catastrophic year”. Thus, she created the Little Free Art Gallery in Seattle which opened its doors on December 13, 2020.

The sprouting of the tiny galleries grew out of Milrany’s efforts to encourage her mother who, in 2019, was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer. Since her mother lived three hours away from her, she chose to send her a small piece of art the size of a postcard each day. “It was something made by human hands to add brightness,” she wrote on her website. Her mother accumulated 145 four-inch-by-six-inch works of art filled with beauty and color and gave her optimism as she navigated her cancer journey.MB FLAG 3[22491]

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

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

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

As Milrany posted on his website: “Art is many things. Among them is simply the proof of human existence and when we are cut off from each other as we have been in this pandemic, that is more important than ever. It’s 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

William E. Bennett