On the corner of Sarasota's Upper Tangelo Street and Brink Avenue sits a little wooden house attached to a stake and parked under a shady oak tree. It's the Free Little Art Gallery.
Similar to the little free library concept, the gallery is a space for locals to give and take art from artists of any age and ability. The gallery has a shingled roof, brightly colored walls and rocks and sculptures at its base. Take a peek inside and you will find miniature art hanging on walls and even figurines admiring the art. Artist Judy Robertson, who created the project, says she wanted to put a smile on people's faces.
"I was stalemated for eight months during the pandemic," says Robertson. "The thought of creating something was more than I could handle. I was a graphic designer for 45 years. I'm now retired, and I needed something to put my energy into. This is the most fun I've had with a project."
Robertson has a small working studio in the Rosemary District. She found inspiration for the little gallery after finding Seattle artist Stacey Milrany on Instagram. Milrany created a similar concept for her neighborhood. "I just thought it was the coolest thing ever," says Robertson. The gallery opened on March 15 and sees about 10 to 15 visitors per day. But it's growing.
"I am always rotating art in and out of the gallery, and I encourage people to take things, even if they don't have art to give in exchange," says Robertson. "I also put out small, blank canvases if people would like to make something."
The gallery's growing social media interest has artists from out of the state and country participating. Robertson has already received pieces from California and Sweden. Mixed media artists Lynn and John Whipple gave pieces and Florida artists Brian and Debbie Miller donated, too.
Some of the best donors, however, have been amateur artists young and old. When the gallery first opened, two neighborhood boys rode their bikes over to take a look. One boy told Robertson he "couldn't do art," says Robertson, but she reassured him. "You can even pick up a stick and paint it," she told him.
"The next day," she says, "I looked in the gallery and saw a painted stick glued to a canvas. Art is art. It's sweet when you get little nuggets like that."
A young girl named Nora lives six houses down and comes to visit regularly in a princess dress and shoes. An elderly woman visited the gallery and said it was a miracle that she'd found it. "She'd been looking all over, and I thought she was going to practically fall when she saw it," says Robertson. "Giving and receiving art really translates to all ages."
People visit in groups, on bikes or on foot, and talk with Robertson. She said one of the best parts has been meeting and talking with her neighbors. She hopes more little galleries open in Sarasota and Bradenton soon.
"Don't be hesitant to take something," says Robertson. "I understand the spirit of wanting to give back, but we have lots of inventory, and are planning to send art to other little galleries. We've created a little gallery community, and are going to encourage each other."
Free Little Art Gallery SRQ is located on the corner of Upper Tangelo Street and Brink Avenue, Sarasota. For more information, visit the gallery's website.