Little Free Libraries have been around since the early 2000’s and many are familiar with their communal “leave a book, take a book” nature. In 2016, Portland artists Erinn Kathryn and Jen LaMastra created the Little Free Gallery Project. Their project temporarily converted twenty Little Free Libraries into art galleries for a month that summer. What originated as an impermanent event took off as the permanent Free Little Art Gallery (FLAG) in 2020, while social distancing was encouraged and humanity was looking for new ways to connect and spread joy. Though, there are a few reported to have been established in the years before the upsurge. At last count, there were 294 Free Little Art Galleries. Among them is the Frankford FLAG.
I first heard about Free Little Art Galleries in January 2021, when Stacy Milrany made news with her FLAG in Seattle. I was obsessed with the idea and wanted to make one of my own but I was sure the foot traffic by my home would disappoint. I resigned myself to following all the FLAGs I could find on social media. But, when I realized the library could do it, I took advantage of my time working a weekend cooling center to organize a pitch for the idea, cross my fingers, and email the pitch to my branch manager and cluster leader. After sorting through logistics such as where and how to position the gallery (next to the catalog computer, atop an unused audiovisual cart), things fell into place. The Frankford FLAG had a grand opening on Flag Day and has been well received at the branch as well as on social media.
Notably, the Frankford FLAG is Philly’s first Free Little Art Gallery and that has attracted local artists as well as artists with ties to the area. On opening day, an artist reached out via Instagram to express the happiness they felt seeing a familiar place from their childhood with a Free Little Art Gallery and they requested to mail us art to display. Since then, we have received art mailed from other states, such as Ohio, and even other countries, such as Canada, and even as far as England. We are regularly receiving interest from local artists, as well.
In an effort to tie the Frankford staff into the community of the Free Little Art Gallery, not only was our debut exhibit made up entirely of staff art but the small gallery patrons are each painted to resemble a member of the staff (even down to our tiny body art)! Additionally, we featured a staff member on the Instagram page each Monday in a “Meet the Minis Monday” series and included their artistic interests and endeavors. These small details really catch people's attention and open up the opportunity for engaging conversations between visitors and staff.
To date, the Frankford FLAG has held jewelry, cross-stitch, paintings, collage, coloring pages, photography, shrinky dinks, perler beads, art prints (postcards), stickers, key chains, macramé, recycled book paper crafts, pastels, drawings, and sculptures. I am excited to see what else the community has to share and I hope to see more contributions from Free Library staff!
Questions? Comments? Want to join the Facebook group for aspiring and established FLAG stewards? Email Jeanette at firstname.lastname@example.org.