Free Art Friday is a relatively new phenomenon that’s rapidly gaining strength as a worldwide movement. From Detroit to Atlanta and from Brisbane, Australia, to Tel Aviv, Israel, artists around the globe leave pieces on street corners, light posts, park benches and bus stops. Each creation — ranging in size and medium — is free to the first passerby who finds it.
Last August, Yvonne Lozano began the Free Art Friday Jacksonville Chapter (FAFJAX). Lozano, known for her colorful paintings of faceless children and “Dingo” the dog, has been leaving original works of her art each Friday and then dropping hints through social media outlets like Instagram and Twitter.
“It can be quick sketches on paper, hand-painted items like empty latex paint cans, and other times, it’s full-blown, large-scale canvas works,” Lozano said of the pieces she leaves. “Recently, I’ve been dropping two versions of my 2013 YCL art calendars wherever I go.
“I like to keep all the subject matter happy, humorous, uplifting and/or with a message of love. The art drops are a random act of kindness — a way to connect random people to the arts in Jacksonville, so keeping with the theme of ‘kindness’ seems to work well for me.”
Two years ago, Lozano got wind of the international phenomenon through Chicago Free Art Hunt artist Patrick Skoff’s Facebook page.
“It sparked my curiosity as to who this guy was. At the time, I was racking my brain on how to use art to impact the masses,” Lozano said. “After seeing what Patrick did with his Art Hunts, which was [to] take his art out of the galleries and use social media to connect people with what he was doing and make it almost like a game, he managed to reach way more new and different people than going the traditional route.”
Lozano’s work with Free Art Friday has sparked interest from other artists. Over the past few months, Koula Redmond, a local ceramicist with a studio at CoRK, has made a half-dozen or so drops of handmade vases and mugs around her Riverside neighborhood.
“My involvement in FAF is pretty unofficial — perhaps as is the FAF movement,” Redmond said. “I use the Instagram/Twitter hashtag [#fafjax and #freeartfriday] and converse with Yvonne, but that’s about it.”
Redmond says she was inspired to get involved in Free Art Fridays after seeing Lozano’s social media posts.
“The world is harsh and can be really negative,” Redmond said. “It’s nice to be able to add an element of whimsy and surprise for someone else to stumble upon. I participate because giving something that has great meaning to me away to a random soul just feels good.”
Local photographer John Shippee also became involved in FAFJAX after seeing posts from Lozano. He’s made drops consisting of postcards with images he’s taken around Jacksonville. Shippee says there are a few reasons he takes part in the movement.
“First, I got really excited when I found a piece by Yvonne and wanted to be able to share that with someone else,” Shippee said. “Second, it’s a great way to share my art with other people who wouldn’t otherwise know about me or what I do. Third, it’s like a little treasure hunt. I like the idea that someone else may have found a piece that I left and may now have it on display in their home.”
While some artists in the FAF movement stick around to see who finds the art and what the reaction is, Lozano prefers to drop it and leave. “There’s always the possibility that the art goes unnoticed or gets ignored, thrown away or damaged,” Lozano said.
“Part of the point of the project is for a random act of kindness, love and art to be shared with random people, so if I’m there monitoring the art, I could start feeling separation anxiety, worry about who’s going to find it or who doesn’t find it,” she said. “In other words, influencing the outcome.”
That doesn’t mean Lozano’s work goes unnoticed. “I’ve gotten emailed with reactions where someone was visiting their sick father at a hospital and stumbled over one of the works, and it brought a little brightness to an otherwise gloomy day,” she said.
“I get tagged a lot on Instagram and Twitter and messaged on Facebook by people who find my work and their gratitude for the project. I also get lots of commentary from other artists who’ve been looking for ways to connect with the masses outside of traditional galleries and venues.”
Instagram user kalaswagsoright found Lozano’s painting of a Chihuahua on a parking meter on Broad Street and posted, “I deft [definitely] felt like a little kid on Christmas haha! Soon my room will be filled with your art if I’m lucky!”
Instagram user atomheartmutha found a small Dingo painting at Morning Glory Christian Fellowship and wrote, “I was in the area and slightly bored so I went after it. And almost missed it!”
People who are searching for FAFJAX pieces and have yet to find an original piece of work by Lozano also message her. Instagram user therubear wrote, “Blasted!!! Why is it so far away?!?! I must perfect my disapparating skills!!!!” Instagram user lizgrebe saw a post that a calendar was posted on a sign on her street. After her roommate went to see if it was there, she wrote, “My roomie went to check, someone grabbed it.”
“Free Art Friday Jacksonville is just an extension of my public and social art project that I call OPERATION: Bring Art to the People [OBAP],” Lozano said. “It’s an effort to connect random people to the power and influence of art through random art drops. Since Free Art Friday is an international effort with a similar mindset, I was more than happy to join the party and front the FAFJAX chapter.”
When asked why she thinks public art is such an important subject, Lozano is more than happy to elaborate. “It seems that the lack of arts education and appreciation in our school system leaves many people disconnected from the art scene, and they don’t understand the importance and impact the arts has on a vibrant and healthy community.
“Not only does a well-supported art and cultural scene have an enormous impact on the quality of life for the people in a community, it also helps generate extra revenue through taxes, business growth, real estate values and job creation — just to name a few,” she said. “There have been plenty of studies done that show the positive impact that studying the creative arts has on a student’s academic progress.”
The artists involved in FAFJAX do so with money out of their own pockets. Lozano accepts donations through her website (yclart.com) to help offset the costs of her endeavor.
“Many people don’t realize that artists, in general, work for free unless someone commissions them to make something or if they sell a piece of art,” she said. “Right now, I’m a full-time artist so every sale, whether it be a fine art print or the purchase of an original work, goes to help with the basic life necessities like food and shelter and also to fund OBAP.”
Lozano says that part of her philosophy surrounding OPERATION: Bring Art to the People and its subset, Free Art Friday Jacksonville, is not only to connect to people who can’t afford art, but to connect those who can but just don’t realize it’s within their means.
“It’s opening a line of communication between the art world and everybody else.”