Featured photo: Greensboro artist Ash Hein poses next to a Free Little Art Gallery in Washington DC. (courtesy photo)

A colorful metal person made of bolts and screws; a slice of melting pizza atop a purple background; a tiny Etch-A-Sketch; carefully crocheted coasters. These are just a number of little crafts and pieces that can be found at two of the smallest art galleries in the Triad. The Free Little Art Galleries in Winston-Salem and Greensboro have been delighting neighbors and random dog walkers for the past several months since they popped up.

“It’s a community art project in a way,” says Taylor Hayes, coordinator of the Free Little Art Gallery in Winston-Salem, located in Washington Park on South Broad Street.

Hayes, a visual artist who has worked at Sawtooth School for Visual Art and presented work at Artworks Gallery in the past, says she came across the concept on Instagram a few months ago. Similar to the Little Free Libraries, the Free Little Art Galleries project is a grassroots effort to share art in local neighborhoods across the country. While the organization appears to have been around for about a decade, the project has become more popular since the pandemic.

That’s when Ash Hein of Greensboro started the Free Little Art Gallery in the Dunleath Neighborhood on Percy Street. They had also seen other little free art galleries on social media and wanted to start one in their neighborhood.

The Free Little Art Gallery in Winston-Salem (courtesy photo)

“We have a lot of little boxes in our neighborhood,” says Hein, who created the Greensboro gallery in 2022. “We have a Little Free Library, a puzzle gallery where people can exchange puzzles and a seed exchange at our community garden around the corner. So I really liked the idea of adding to that.”

Similarly, in the Washington Park area in Winston-Salem, Hayes says there is a Little Free Library and also a free food pantry up the street. And like those other projects, the Free Little Art Gallery is meant to be a stress-free collaborative space for people to share art without any strings attached.

“There’s no cost,” Hayes says. “It’s just something you can stumble upon and not feel judged.”

The gallery in Greensboro was made by Hein and their partner and looks similar to the little free libraries. It’s essentially a wooden box with a door affixed to a pole. The one in Winston-Salem is a little bigger, made of metal and is bolted directly into the side of a fence and sits on top of a stone wall. Both have a little description of the project and tags to their Instagram pages where they share new work that comes ein

Artists drop off all kinds of work from little sculptures to prints to crocheted coasters. (courtesy photo)

Because there’s an established national network, both Hein and Hayes say that they’ve received art from people outside of the state.

In one instance, a person from Maryland sent a painting of a menorah to the Greensboro gallery during the holidays. Hayes says artists from as far as Washington state have sent in objects for the gallery.

“It’s a fun way for them to get their art in other places,” Hayes says of out-of-state artists.

In the Greensboro gallery there used to be little people who acted as “spectators” in the box, Hein says. The little people have been taken in the last few months, but the art continues to be displayed on little lines, almost like clothing lines, inside the box. The Winston-Salem gallery is a bit more freeform, with a shelf that allows for a lot of art to be displayed inside and on the metal walls via magnets. The Winston-Salem location also has a doodle book for anyone to leave notes or draw in. That’s one of Hein’s favorite parts about the gallery.

Taylor Hayes (courtesy photo)

“You can come by and visit,” they say. “You don’t have to make anything. There is always something to be taken; it is not a requirement to make something to take something.”

Still, if someone wants to make something and contribute, there are no rules. Anyone can create what they want and put it in the gallery. In the past, kids have made drawings, neighbors have dropped off decorated cookies, and people have even dropped off plant cuttings in the boxes.

“We want art from anyone and everyone,” Hein says. “We love it all.”

The point is to make art accessible to everyone, Hayes says.

“In a world where there’s a lot going on, it’s just a tiny moment where you can experience something fun or unique that you didn’t expect to,” she says.

So the next time you’re in the neighborhood, why not open the door and see what’s inside?

Visit the Winston-Salem gallery (@freelittleartgallerywsnc) at the corner of Broad and Sprague Streets. Visit the Greensboro location (@percystflag) on Percy Street near Yanceyville. Learn more about the national network at freelittleartgalleries.art.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡