Free Art: Out of the Gallery

Free Art
Leaving a surprise for some shopper at PAX Coffee, JoAnn Jarmon-Avant hides another piece of free art.
Photo credits: Seth and JoAnn Avant

Mar 7, 2018–When Bart Simpson told his dad he hated art, Homer commiserated.

“Oh, everyone does, son. That’s why they lock it up in museums where no one will ever visit.”

Hill Country artist Seth Avant is putting art back out on the streets where everyone can enjoy it. It’s called Free Art Friday.

“One of main reasons to do this is to bring the art community together,” Avant said. “There are a lot of artists around, and being new here, we wanted to meet them.”

Here’s how it works. Every Friday, a group of artists donate small original works of art that are hidden around the community. For now, the hiding ground is downtown Kerrville. They post photos of the art in its hiding place on the group’s Facebook page Kerrville Free Art Friday. Anyone finding the work gets to keep it, free of charge. Finders know it by the tag: Free Art–Take Me Home! #kerrvillefreeartfriday

Depending on the number of participating artists any given week, they may hide one or two pieces or as many as eight.

The Free Art Movement is an organic international phenomenon that has been around for more than 10 years. The formalized movement started in England, but no one owns it. Avant became involved while living in Laredo, and brought the idea when he and his wife, JoAnn Jarmon-Avant, moved here a little over a year ago.

While difficult to describe what Free Art Friday is, one thing it is not is a Scavenger Hunt.

“One lady took her kids downtown and found all six pieces right away,” Avant said. After he explained the sharing concept to her, she put all of them back. “We now ask that you limit yourself to finding one or two per month.”

That gives more people the chance to participate, and allows time for out-of-towners to get to the hiding area.

The group now boasts nearly 900 followers on their Facebook page. You must request permission to join the online group, but you don’t need to be a member to find the art. Some literally stumble upon it.

“One day I was sitting in my truck, posting where I hid something,” Avant said. “A couple from out of town came along the sidewalk, saw it, and picked it up. I got out of the truck and explained what they had found and took their picture.”

Free Art Seth
Artist Seth Avant hides a piece of art in downtown Kerrville, free to take home to the first person that finds it. Seth and JoAnn Avant set out several pieces every week for the group Kerrville Free Art Friday.

Most pieces are some type of visual art, on canvases as small as 3 inches and larger. Avant and his wife specialize in fine art photography, abstract paintings, and multimedia collage. But they welcome all types of artistic creations. During the Kerrville Folk Festival, Avant collected music CDs donated by performers.

“I hid them and put links to the musicians’ web pages,” he said. “It’s good for helping publicize them.”

He’s also cached work by jewelry makers, coffee mugs by ceramicists, and has invited Schreiner University students to submit original poetry.

“They can write up something on nice paper, roll it up, hide it, and take a picture to post on our page.”

As noncontroversial as this might seem, not everyone embraced the idea. Initially, some downtown merchants were skeptical when Avant approached them to hide a piece of art at their shop. But now several businesses are on board, appreciating it as a creative way to bring more people downtown.

So what is the point of doing this, which Avant admits takes a lot of personal time and trouble. Is it just about selling art?

“That is certainly a part of it,” he said. “Most artists have gotten a sale or two out of this. But that is not our purpose.”

JoAnn Jarmon-Avant cites other reasons for Free Art Fridays.

“What we are trying to do is bring artists in the community together through sharing,” she said. “We are also putting art into the hands of people who might never be able to buy art, or who never go into an art gallery. I see many people find it, read the tag, and take it home. It brings great joy. That’s really cool.”

So all of you Homer Simpsons who seldom set foot in a museum, be warned. The art is coming for you.


More information is available on Facebook at Kerrville Free Art Friday.