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Oakland’s ‘Tiny’ Art Gallery Movement

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If you’ve read my Troll Trail article, you know that I’m an art kid who loves anything that combines mischief and public art.

When my neighbor snapped a photo of a small free little art gallery in Oakland, I had to go and see what it was all about. She gave me the cross streets and it was up to me to find the small building and explore what was inside.

small charcoal free library dedicated to free art

Free Little Art Gallery Oakland

I found a small Shrinky Dink owl necklace I had made a while back and decided it’d be my first gift to this neighborhood’s tiny art gallery. I drove right by the gallery twice before I found it. It looks like a free tiny book library! Much like a traditional free library, the gallery was a small building standing at eye level but instead of books inside it was decked out with ledges and small easels for art to be displayed on. The art inside varied from collage and photography to painted rocks. You could tell the artists ranged from budding kid artists to professional artists. I reached in and found a cozy place for my necklace to live inside the gallery and snagged the most beautiful piece of pottery from WBA Ceramics – complete with a tag attached that says “Enjoy! Art for Everyone!”.

small handmade brightly colored owl necklace

Soon after my first visit, I started to write this article to tell you all about the tiny movement. What I learned is that the movement, as far as I could tell, started in Seattle. Using a list of known US tiny galleries shared with gallery owners, I contacted the list creator and learned there are somewhere between 150-200 free little art galleries known on Instagram alone. There were only 2 free little art galleries in Oakland (freelittleartgalleryoakland  & freelittleartgalleryoakmore). As of today there are no known San Francisco free tiny galleries according to the list. There are, however, a couple in the South Bay & Marin.

I had such a passion and love for what I was learning about these tiny galleries and no matter how hard I tried I really couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to go ahead and make my own – the 3rd known free little art gallery in Oakland!

black tiny library mounted on a fence with the door open showing a white wall with a shelf and wooden flooring

My completed free little art gallery

The process of creating my free little art gallery was pretty simple:

• Obtain building: many make theirs, I got mind from Free Little Library
• Sketched out my plan for my gallery and the supplies I’d need –  just paint & hardware mostly.
• After painting the building, I put in temporary flooring using “wood” contact paper.
• My boyfriend has access to tools at American Steel and so we went there to cut the ledge for the back of the building.
• Mount the shelf & add the hardware onto the building after painting.
• Added in a motion detected puck light for night drop-offs.
• Had my neighbor help me drill the small building into one of the main posts in my fence & added shelving brackets.

• Finally, I added varnish to the exterior to help further protect the art and the building from weather.

As I built my gallery out, I created an Instagram to connect with other galleries from the list I mentioned earlier. F.L.A.G. owners & artists from all over the US sent in art to add to my gallery. The gallery owner I had originally found and added my art to even walked over and gave me some of her own photography. It has been heartwarming to find this niche of pure positivity in the art world. Where artists and tiny gallery curators support each other, encourage each other and give art freely in their communities.

tiny free art gallery mounted on fence photographed at an angle

photograph of inside the free tiny art gallery featuring watercolor art, stickers, a screen printed sloth and a resin pen
As of February 1st is the official soft opening of my tiny gallery. I still have some work to do to keep tweaking my tiny gallery such as a permanent wood floor and anti-fog glass protection. But, the future is bright for this free little art gallery. I’m proud to be the 3rd Oakland free little art gallery and a part of this tiny movement with a huge heart.

To participate, find a free little art gallery and just take art or give free art! Half the fun is finding these through word of mouth or stumbling upon them. You don’t need to make art – you can snag anything in there that you love – but… if you are leaving art, don’t forget to put your website or instagram on the back of your art so folks can learn more about your art. And, if you’re feeling mischievous and inspired, consider making your own tiny gallery and spread some positivity through art. 

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy is a professional smiling machine raised in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.