Tiny Galleries in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol encourage artwork exchange

The Santa Rosa program allows local artists to swap art for free public display.|

Santa Rosa artists Robert van de Walle and Dawn Thomas had an idea: Why not make art available to everyone by allowing artwork swaps at public neighborhood kiosks?

The idea is similar to the Little Free Library kiosks where people can leave and take used books. Armed with a $5,000 grant they received last year from the arts-supporting nonprofit Creative Sonoma, a division of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, the pair expected to kick off their project last April.

Then came the coronavirus, abruptly halting all sorts of public activities.

“COVID-19 shut down the kiosk idea,” van de Walle recalled.

So in the meantime, he and Thomas launched an online art exchange. Now, two of the kiosks they originally planned are finally in place.

In June, the first kiosk was installed in the Art and Soul of Sebastopol art supply store. The second kiosk went up in August in downtown Santa Rosa, when the city launched its “Open & Out” program, closing Fourth Street for cars to encourage socially distanced outdoor dining and pedestrian traffic. The program was recently extended through the end of next January.

Since then, 35 artists have participated in the free Tiny Galleries art exchange, van de Walle said. Entries include paintings, small three-dimensional works and pen and ink drawings.

“It’s not an overwhelming amount of art, but it’s definitely an artistic presence in the ‘Open & Out’ experience,” van de Walle said. “The city has done a great job of reaching out to the public.”

The kiosks themselves are designed for easy use by artists and for easy viewing by the public.

“The artists can access the kiosk by filling out a form on our website and sending us a picture of their artwork,” Thomas said.

In return, they’ll receive a kiosk access code. The website is tinygalleries.org.

“Then they can take a piece of artwork and put in one of their own,” Thomas said.

Once in place, the kiosk displays are driven entirely by the exchange of art. It’s still in the planning stages, but van de Walle and Thomas hope to open more kiosks in Sonoma and Marin counties.

“It’s the easiest art show ever,” van de Walle said.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.

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