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

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View all the art that has been received or exchanged on Instagram at www.instagram.com/tinygalleries.

Website: tinygalleries.org

Two Santa Rosa artists, Robert van de Walle and Dawn Thomas, had a clear and simple vision of an innovative project they wanted to do, but of course, life doesn’t always work out exactly the way we expect.

The idea was to bring original artwork to neighborhoods without easy access to galleries or museums by installing kiosks that display art for exchange, to be opened only with a key code from their Tiny Galleries website.

The concept is akin to those miniature libraries you see book lovers putting up in their front yards, which are unlocked.

“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 project later this month with a demonstration and opening party at the Art and Soul art supply store in Sebastopol.

Then came the statewide shelter-in-place order, and everything changed, but credit the two innovators with resilience. With so many galleries and museums closed, they devised with a way you can have the art come to you. 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 art from the person you sent your art to,” van de Walle said.

But this system allows you to pick art from a wider selection. Just go to the form at tinygalleries.org and upload your contact information along with a picture of your art. The program is free, except for whatever postage or shipping costs you would ordinarily pay.

So far, the program has drawn 21 artworks by 10 artists. About half of the participants are artists and the rest are simply people who appreciate and own art.

“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.

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 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 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 artwork exchange may seem playful or even frivolous, the underlying value of the project deserves to be taken seriously.

“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 finish the 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 www.instagram.com/tinygalleries.

Website: tinygalleries.org

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