Art for all

Will You Be The Free Little Art Gallery's Next Curator?

Sarasota's Free Little Art Gallery is closing its tiny doors on Dec. 25. Founder Judy Robertson is looking for its new home.

By Kim Doleatto December 19, 2022

Judy Robertson with the Free Little Art Gallery in Sarasota's Southgate neighborhood.

Image: Barbara Banks

One thing that surprised Judy Robertson about caring for the Free Little Art Gallery on the corner of Upper Tangelo Street and Brink Avenue was that passersby hesitated to take art if they had nothing to give. But that’s just what it’s for. Since starting it in March of last year, Robertson, an artist herself, has encouraged anyone and everyone to give and take their tiny creations. 

Now she's ready to pass the baton to someone else, and is hoping to rehome the gallery to someone who's as passionate about it as she is. 

Free Little Art Gallery SRQ.

Similar to the Little Free Library concept, the gallery is a space for locals to give, show and take art from artists of any age and ability. The cheerful box perched on a post has a shingled roof, brightly colored walls and rocks and sculptures at its base. A peek inside reveals miniature art hanging on walls. Robertson says she started curating it to put a smile on people’s faces.

Tiny figures admire tiny art in the Free Little Art Gallery.

Through watching over the gallery, she says she's learned that people are naturally giving, "and if you tap their creative soul, their eyes light up.” She says sometimes people just look at the gallery, shying away from participating because they claim they're not artists. But “everyone’s an artist,” she says. “Paint a stick and place it inside–that’s art.”

Her favorite piece was an unsigned, painted mandala left in the gallery by a stranger. “It was so beautiful. I was so taken aback by the gift of it," she says. Robertson also has a traveling friend who regularly sends things to her from all over the country. Others she's never met also send tiny art pieces every month. “They follow the gallery on Instagram and want to be a part of it,'' she says. "It's been pretty amazing."

The idea for the Free Little Art Gallery took root when Robertson found Seattle artist Stacey Milrany on Instagram. Milrany created a similar concept for her neighborhood, and now art lovers in cities far and wide are making them happen.

“I was stalemated for eight months during the pandemic,” says Robertson. “I was a graphic designer for 45 years. When I retired, I needed something to put my energy into. This is the most fun I’ve had with a project."

Judy Robertson is actively looking for the Free Little Art Gallery's next caretaker.

To encourage creativity, sometimes Robertson buys 3-inch-by-3-inch canvases with donations from gallery supporters, then places them inside for people to take and return, painted. "People can paint the rocks at the base of it, too," she says. Members of Sarasota Rocks, a local rock painting group, are regular contributors. 

But aside from the pretty paintings, what she’ll miss the most about it the gallery is the people. “I met so many neighbors I never knew I had," she says, "I'll especially miss the kids." 

In fact, two neighborhood children, Samaya Laeger and Royal Devlin, loved the gallery so much that their tiny works—along with the gallery itself—were featured in National Geographic Kids magazine. Devlin was also instrumental in getting a gallery installed at his school, Southside Elementary.

Southside Elementary student Royal Devlin adds his contribution to the Little Free Art Gallery SRQ.

So what's next for Robertson? She and her husband are hitting the road. The couple bought a motor home and like to ride bikes. The plan is to head to state parks and simply “get out of dodge,” she says, adding that there’s only so many times she can ask the neighbors to keep an eye on the gallery. “I don't like it to sit empty," she explains.

The gallery will be dismantled on Christmas Day, and Robertson is ready to rehome it to the right person—or people—and place after she freshens it up with a new coat of paint.  She hopes it ends up at another home or a school, and plans to interview interested parties and visit their location to make sure it’s the right fit. She'll also be available to consult and share her tips with its new caregiver to ensure a smooth transition.

“It needs to be on a street where it's safe for people to drop in on foot or bike and take or leave their creative mark," she says.

Interested in rehoming the Free Little Art Gallery? Email Judy Robertson at [email protected].

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