It’s not a birdhouse, a house-shaped postal box, or a Little Free Library.
It is a unique form of community engagement that is becoming popular around town, just the way the original “Free Little Art Gallery” concept has blossomed into a trend that’s taking shape across the country.
Hosted by the Art Department at Cazenovia College, the “Tiny Art Exchange” in Cazenovia houses miniature works of art—pieces that are available free for the taking. Community members are welcome to leave their own little art for others to enjoy and take home, too.
The Exchange, housed in a small wooden container mounted on the gate of the Jephson Campus on Albany Street, is an idea that’s catching on. It was brought to fruition by Professor of Art Anita Welych with the assistance of Studio Manager Shawn McGuire after Welych investigated the idea through an article relayed by Interior Design Professor Betsy Moore. Welych thought the College could host a community art exchange in Cazenovia, so asked McGuire if he could build something to house it. After testing several types of designs and materials through trial and error, McGuire arrived at the current style and installed it over the summer. At first, it was filled with the works of students from Welych’s spring painting class.
Before very long, the idea caught on. The Exchange has seen a robust amount of activity recently.
“The community has been very good about putting work in; we were not expecting that,” Welych explained. “The initial thought was that our students would populate this, but it’s really become extremely interactive in terms of community involvement.”
The movement began in Seattle when an artist there wanted to help people connect through art while they were disconnected and isolated during COVID shutdowns of art galleries and facilities. Similar galleries have sprung up in Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Atlanta, Oakland, Hyattsville MD, Los Angeles, Evanston, IL, and Edmonton Canada, as well as Cazenovia.
Just as the Seattle gallery promoted community interface, Welych hopes to see continuing interaction and an ongoing “give and take” of artworks. She is planning for this semester’s classes of students to continue making tiny art designed to place in the Exchange.
It was the interface of people with art, and with each other through art, that caught Welych’s interest to the project in the first place, she noted. “The artist engaged her community and her neighborhood, and it generated conversation and kept people interested. Particularly when people were still doing a lot of social distancing, it provided a way to feel engaged.”
Welych believes most of the art that has been coming and going lately has originated from community members. “Students had gone home before we got this up and running, so it’s nice to see that it’s been accepted and utilized by the community.”
“The premise is, take something, leave something, but if you want to just take something, that’s okay, too,” she added. “It’s a unique thing to do and it’s good to see that people are using it the way it was intended.”