Free Little Art Galleries Sprout Up in Ann Arbor, Encourages Community to Share Art

Longtime Ann Arborite and artist starts a Free Little Art Gallery for the community to enjoy. We spoke with Marie McMahon Parmer about the adorable art gallery and where to find them.

Free Little Art Gallery
The internal view of the FLAG includes many miniature pieces. Image courtesy of Marie McMahon Parmer.

Longtime Ann Arborite and prolific artist Marie McMahon Parmer discovered an article in the Washington Post about a Free Little Art Gallery (FLAG) in Seattle. It was the inspiration behind creating her own FLAG for all to enjoy and celebrate art.

I was so taken with the idea, I knew I had to reproduce the concept here in Ann Arbor,” Parmer explained. “My husband Curtis, who is very supportive and also very skilled in construction, immediately hopped on board and helped design it.”

Free Little Art Gallery

A Free Little Art Gallery (FLAG) is similar to the Little Free Libraries that invite people to share and exchange books. The primary difference is FLAGs are for people to share and appreciate miniature art. Parmer’s husband designed and built the small house that holds the art. Palmer, along with many more, creates the art placed inside.

“I wanted to make art and creativity accessible to everyone,” Parmer explained. “After a year of isolation and fear, it has been a lovely way to create tangible connections with people in the community by spreading joy and giving. People who have claimed to be otherwise uncreative have given a go at creating artwork and sharing it, which makes me really happy to see. It’s also a great way to support and encourage local artists by giving them a new venue to showcase their work.”

Creating Art

Parmer’s FLAG is at 1511 Pauline Boulevard, across from Fritz Park and between Seventh and Stadium. It was built between February 2021 and March 2021. There is another FLAG titled “Take Art, Leave Art” at 4547 Hickory Pointe Boulevard in Pittsfield Township.

“Traffic varies, but sometimes we get multiple exchanges of art a day,” Parmer stated concerning the 1511 Pauline Boulevard FLAG. “I check it daily or more.”

Families and kids have been enthusiastic about creating and interacting with the art of the FLAGs that are currently around town. Anyone can give or take art to enjoy and exchange.

Free Little art galleries
Artist Marie McMahon Parmer stands near the FLAG she and her husband created. Image courtesy of Wendy Smith.

“Kids love it! We already have families who stop by regularly, even driving over specifically to spend some time looking around, contributing art, and taking pieces home as well,” she described. “There are a lot of ‘rising young artists’ I’ve been thrilled to feature on the gallery’s Instagram page. I think our youngest contributor was 5-years-old.”

What Art is in the Free Little Art Gallery?

The kind of art that fills the FLAGs varies a great deal.

“I’ve seen a wide variety of pieces find their way into the gallery, which has only been open for a month,” Parmer detailed. “Illustrations, acrylic paintings, watercolors, jewelry, photography, tiny ceramics, prints, and other fun things like fabric sculptures, metal wind chimes, painted rocks, collages… I can’t wait to check it every day — usually several times a day — to see what’s new.” 

Stacy Milrany originated the concept and is encouraging others to use the idea to start their own galleries. She hopes to create a national network of galleries, much like the Little Free Library organization. And apparently, FLAGs are turning up everywhere across the country.

“It appears to be growing like crazy! My hunch is that most people started their galleries much in the way I did; they were introduced to the concept and wanted to take part, so they built one for themselves,” revealed Parmer.

“I follow at least 50 other FLAGs on Instagram who are located all over the country. And I know there are many more,” she added.

Creating Your Own FLAG

She has advice for others interested in getting into the action.

“I recommend folks visit Milrany’s website and read through her [Stacy Milrany] FAQs, where she shares her philosophy, gives information, and provides an email for those interested in being a part of the (future) national network,” shared Parmer. “Another great resource is littlefreelibarry.org, which offers kits for building structures. Instagram is where the FLAGs all seem to share their stories.”

Parmer promised to keep creating art and supporting her Free Little Art Gallery as well.

After a 30-year career in graphic design, now I’m back in the studio getting my hands dirty, working in acrylics, watercolor, illustration, collage, and photography,” she added.  “I’m a lifelong Ann Arborite; born and raised here, leaving briefly for college only to return to attend U of M. I haven’t left since.”

Parmer’s FLAG. 1511 Pauline BLVD., Ann Arbor. 

Take Art, Leave Art. 4547 Hickory Pointe BLVD., Ann Arbor.