Santa Rosa-based Tiny Galleries project will send art to you for free

More Information

View all the art that has been received or exchanged on Instagram at


Two Santa Rosa artists, Robert van de Walle and Dawn Thomas, had a clear and simple vision for an innovative project that would bring original artwork to neighborhoods that don’t have easy access to galleries or museums.

Of course, life doesn’t always work out exactly the way we expect.

Their plan was to deliver original artwork to these neighborhoods by installing kiosks that would display art for people to exchange. A key code from their Tiny Galleries website was all participants needed to open a kiosk, place their art inside and take a piece in exchange.

The concept is akin to those Little Free Libraries you see book lovers putting up in their front yards, which are unlocked and which people can freely give to and take from.

“If we created mini-kiosks around town, we’d be making art more visible, because we feel local artists need more access to the public,” van de Walle said. “Dawn came up with the idea about two years ago.”

Armed with a $5,000 grant they received last year from the arts support nonprofit Creative Sonoma, a division of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, the pair expected to kick off their art kiosk project later this month. They’d even planned a demonstration and opening party at the Art and Soul art supply store in Sebastopol.

Then came the statewide shelter-in-place order that changed everything. But credit the two innovators with resilience.

Rather than let a change in plans deter them, they adapted their project and devised a way for the sharing of art to continue. Through the new online Tiny Galleries Shelter In Place Art Exchange, artists and art enthusiasts can mail artworks to van de Walle and Thomas and choose art from the project’s website to receive by mail in return.

“In a traditional mail swap, you send a piece of art and get back a piece of art from the person you sent your art to,” van de Walle said.

This system allows participants to pick art from a wider selection, too, than they could have through the kiosks. You can take part by finding the form at and uploading your contact information along with a picture of your art.

The program is free, except for the amount you spend on postage or shipping to send your piece.

About half the participants so far are artists and the rest are people who simply appreciate, own art or make it for fun. You don’t need to be a professional artist to partake in the program; nonartists can make artwork and join in, too.

“I think it is a great way to showcase local artists big and small. I truly believe anyone can create art and hope they consider submitting a piece to this project,” said Tracy Rempe of Novato, who submitted several watercolor block prints to the Tiny Galleries project.

So far, the program has drawn 21 artworks by 10 artists, ranging from Pacifica north to Eureka and inland to Lake County.

“I think we’ve been successful so far, because people are sending watercolors, paintings and three-dimensional art, and it all seems good,” Thomas said.

Thomas and van de Walle still plan to install the kiosks at some point. In the future, when the kiosks are in place, it will be easier to show off the three-dimensional pieces.

“Right now the flat pieces work best,” van de Walle said.

Eureka installation and performance artist Bernadette Veilbig submitted a quirky piece of work she made from tufts of fur - salvaged from the collar of a family heirloom wool coat that had been chewed up by a dog - and “cartoony eyes” like the ones used in making children’s toys.

In return, she received a tiny painting of a fortune cookie by Melissa Jones of Occidental, one of several artworks shown on the Tiny Galleries website.

“The fortune reads ‘Don’t be a dick,’?” Veilbig said.

That’s a practical message for a populace stressed by the coronavirus pandemic.

While some of the artwork exchanged may seem playful or even frivolous, there is a more serious underlying value.

“The benefit of the Tiny Galleries Art Exchange is twofold: building community and accessibility for the artists and the viewers,” Veilbig said.

“I was excited when they initially got funding for their project because I liked the idea of representing artists in the community.”

Stalled now partly because it’s difficult get all of the materials needed to build kiosks during the stay-home order, Thomas and van de Walle still hope to go ahead with their neighborhood kiosk idea once the crisis has passed. Meanwhile, they’re not discouraged.

“I always thought this project would go in directions I couldn’t anticipate,” van de Walle said.

More Information

View all the art that has been received or exchanged on Instagram at


Dan Taylor

Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat

Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.

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