Noticing Neighbors Free Art Friday
All over the streets of Kansas City, there are paintings being tucked away for neighbors to find. Free Art Friday is a movement for artists using their creative talent to spread joy into the community. After finishing a piece, the artist finds an inventive spot to hide it in plain sight—along with a note explaining that it’s completely free. Just after placing it, they are able to take a picture and post the location of their latest drop for the group online to enjoy, and leave it for whoever finds it.
Ruth Becker is a local artist and the founder of the Kansas City movement, and shares how it connects to the community.
Hayley: I gotta tell you, I had hopes that I might see some artwork today because I've been following your art for a while, and this exceeds all expectations. Your work is gorgeous! Ruth: Thank you. I appreciate it. Yeah, that big piece behind me is one I did.
You love color.
I really do love color. All of my stuff is very colorful!
Hayley: For readers, would you mind explaining what Free Art Friday is?
Ruth: Well, I'll tell you how I got it started in Kansas City. Back in 2013, my mom passed away from cancer, and I wanted to do something for the community because she was a very community-oriented person. A friend of mine was doing this thing called Flood the Streets with Art that happens on Black Friday.
It's throughout the world and everyone connects about it over Facebook, but it's only one day a year that all different artists decide to give away some art. I saw that, and then I noticed that there was a Free Art Friday page in Wisconsin. So I talked to the owner of that group and asked: “Hey, how does that work? How do you set that up?” He told me to check if there was already a group in the city and so I looked all of it up: nothing! Hayley: It was wide open.
It was. So he said that I was more than welcome to use all the paperwork he’d made to get it going. Hayley: So it’s as simple as it sounds, right? Every Friday, artists in the area can post that they’ve given away a free piece of art for someone to find.
Ruth: Yes, and it creates a lot of connections in the community. So my first piece that I dropped was back in December of 2013, and I have dropped art every single Friday since then. When I first started the group, I reached out to a number of my artist friends and said, “Hey, do you guys want to do this with me?” There were about four or five of us starting out. And that was here in town, right in Kansas City.
Then I started to see art being dropped in different areas, like Overland Park. But there was one artist out in Cameron, Missouri. Her name was Heidi Bench, and we became really good friends when she started giving away art up there as part of the Free Art Friday Kansas City group. I even have people that are in Springfield that copied my group and have started a free Art Friday in Springfield as well. So it is a really fun and really rewarding thing to do. Hayley: What a neat moment, to see it spread out like that. Ruth: I feel great when I give away my pieces and I try very hard to do that every week. And if I ever get behind, I make sure I give away a number of pieces after that. Basically what I do is I'll paint a piece and then a friend of mine made up a flyer that gets attached to the back of it, and then there’s a little sheet with my info so they know about the artist.
Hayley: Is it both of those papers every time?
Ruth: Just about. I used to write a little note, plus these papers. It just depends on if I have time or not. Hayley: How do you know which pieces to give away? Do you paint it specifically for that?
Ruth: Sometimes if I'm having fun with a piece and I know that it's not one that I really want to sell, then I just go, hey, I can give that one away! But a lot of times it's older pieces of art. Ones that have been sitting in my garage for a while, and I figure I might as well put it out for someone else.
Someone will enjoy it.
That’s definitely the goal. For the most part, you never really hear back from people, even if you leave the note. But who cares, right?
There are also times where I happen to be there when the person's picking it up. The very first time I dropped art, I saw the people at a distance. These two guys picked it up on the Plaza, and I got to see them find it. Hayley: Do you have any regular spots? Ruth: My husband is in a band, so we go a lot to Mike Kelly's Westsider. A lot of times I just leave them there and people who I know will pick them up. But most of the time, I don't get any response. I would say probably in all the years that I've done it, I've probably had about 30 or 40 responses. Hayley: Wow. Ruth: It's something! And it’s always neat when that happens. Most of the people that reach out do so because they have a lot going on, and share that they really needed this.
There is this one couple who, they are so sweet, always try and follow my art everywhere when I do Free Art Friday. They were going through a really difficult time, I guess, and when they found my art it inspired them to paint and try it out. They wrote me a really beautiful note, and that really made me happy. It's things like that—it just kind of makes your day.
It's interesting because that's one story where you know what happened—but then there are so many stories. I mean, if it’s been since 2013, there are so many stories you don't know, right? You don't know how it moves someone, or it's on their wall and gives them inspiration every day. Those kinds of things.
There was one that was really neat, where I dropped an art piece outside of a Walmart in Gardener. I was with my granddaughter, and she was little at the time. She dropped it, we went in and shopped, and then we came back and she told me: “Nobody got it.” And I told her, “Oh, it's okay, honey. Somebody will eventually get it because it was right close to the front door.” We left, and as we were driving back, I get this message on Facebook that somebody wanted to join Free Art Friday. So I let them join. And then by the time I got home, there was a note from a couple that were driving through to Texas and they stopped at Walmart to get snacks.
The guy was going to ask the lady to marry him, and the one that I gave away was just really cool. It had a tree with an eye on it, and he said there was some kind of significance to the imagery for her, and she started crying. He told me this whole story. Hayley: Oh my word! Ruth: That definitely keeps me going. I just love to do it, and my granddaughter actually gives away art now, too. She just got into it at the time. She was real little then, but now she's 14. Just about six months ago she came with me and did a piece, and she's a really good artist now.
Hayley: There's something really cool about how it's so unexpected to the person that finds it. Do you have any tips for if someone wants to join in, where can they leave it that’s a fun surprise?
Ruth: I leave them everywhere! What’s really unexpected is when you leave it in a place you think no one would find it, and they do. I was at the Kauffman recently, and left a piece of art. It was a larger piece, about 16 X 20, and I stuck it off of the entrance and by a pole. I doubted anyone would find it there. A lady found it and sent me a message that she was so happy to find the piece. So it's the little places like that where you tuck it away, you have to be inventive. It's fun to find these cool little places in a park, by a tree, near the streetcar, that kind of thing. You have to be inventive and figure out where to put stuff. I left one at a gas station! Hayley: How?
I made a statue, and then stuck the little statue right above the pump at the gas station. So when they go to get gas, they'd see it.
You hear back sometimes, but so often you don't hear back, right? Ruth: No. Hayley: So in your heart, what's your intention? What do you know that keeps you going, and keeps you giving in this way?
Well, one thing is I made a promise to my mom that I would do something really good and kind for this world. As far as talents go, I am an artist and this is my way of giving back and bringing joy to people. It's not about the response. It's just about giving, and that feeling that you get. Every time I leave it, I wonder who's going to get it. It just brings joy to my heart, and we’d welcome anyone who wants to try it!
Keep up with the latest drops from Free Art Friday Kansas City by requesting membership through their Facebook. All media originally published by Free Art Friday Kansas City via their online platforms.