ANN ARBOR, MI — While thousands flock to downtown Ann Arbor this week for one of the nation’s biggest art fairs, there’s a free — albeit smaller — art show happening across town.
In fact, it’s been happening every day for nearly a year and a half now, delighting passersby on Pauline Boulevard.
Local artist Marie Parmer started the Ann Arbor Free Little Art Gallery along the sidewalk in front of her home across from Fritz Park in March last year and has been steadily curating it with a rotating collection of tiny artworks made by people near and far, from neighbors to artists around the country.
Similar to the take-a-book, leave-a-book libraries found in neighborhoods throughout Ann Arbor, the concept for the gallery is simple. Anyone is free to take a piece or leave a piece, or both, and everyone’s artwork is welcome.
“Anybody can take anything. They don’t have to contribute,” Parmer said.
Parmer occasionally hangs a bucket of flowers outside the gallery and those are free for the taking, too.
She just asks that people not take the tiny figures who can be found admiring the artwork inside.
“It’s been really a great way to connect with the community in sort of a small way,” she said, adding both children and adults have contributed to the gallery. “People love to give things, people love to create things, people love to get things, so it’s just been very joyful. We’ve gotten some really cool pieces.”
The gallery was inspired by one started in Seattle during the pandemic by artist Stacy Milrany.
Parmer had her husband Curtis build hers using a lot of recycled material, complete with a solar-powered light that illuminates the art inside for a couple hours each night.
She also has an Instagram account with nearly 900 followers where she documents the changing collections.
“It wanes during bad weather,” she acknowledged. “It has sort of an up and down.”
Pieces on display have included tiny sculptures, pencil sketches, paintings, jewelry, collages, fabric art and photographs.
“One was somebody took a Polaroid of the gallery itself and put it in there and that’s one of my favorite pieces,” Parmer said.
“There’s some people who contribute regularly. There’s been some really great prints,” she added, noting a friend of hers also makes beautiful opal stones by tumbling them and has left a couple in the gallery. “Those are really cool.”
Parmer, who does abstract paintings, contributes her own art to the gallery from time to time.
“After a long career in graphic design and branding and marketing — that sort of thing — I have become a full-time painter, so it’s been a really great way for me to experiment and play and do small works,” she said.
Neighbors also come by regularly with their kids who contribute pieces, she said.
“Recently we had a kid send in a little mermaid that she had sculpted and that was one of the ones
mailed to me and that was amazing,” she said.
Some sign their artwork and some don’t, so she doesn’t always know who the artist is when a new piece shows up.
“Some people mail things from across the country,” she said, noting an artist from Texas regularly contributes. “It’s becoming a national thing, a lot like the little free libraries, so the idea is growing. It’s a great way for artists to just kind of connect with other people and it’s been really a positive experience.”
Parmer, who has a website for her own artwork and was featured at the Westside Art Hop recently, said she won’t have a booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fair this week, but she’s thinking maybe in another two or three years.
“Art Fair is a goal for me,” she said.
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