Tucked along the side of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, passers-by will find Juneau’s newest art gallery--the museum’s Free Little Art Gallery or FLAG for short. Anyone is free to add to the collection or take a pocket-sized treasure home. The gallery is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

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Tucked along the side of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, passers-by will find Juneau’s newest art gallery—the museum’s Free Little Art Gallery.

The gallery resembles a miniature diorama and includes a rotating display of art. Anyone is free to add to the collection or take a pocket-sized treasure home.

In a recent interview, museum director Beth Weigel said the gallery, called FLAG for short, provides a “low-risk place to display art” and helps to build community.

“Since the Free Little Art Gallery works with miniature artworks, it is the perfect venue to inspire children, as well as adults, to display their creations and perhaps even be what inspires someone to become an artist,” Weigel wrote in a recent paper describing the project.

Finding inspiration

Weigel said the idea of a FLAG is built on the same sharing principle that inspires the Little Free Library Concept.

She said the gallery consists of a repurposed display case. The display is mounted on the outside of the historic Veteran’s Building, which houses the museum.

Staff members added shelves and paint, and the maintenance crew installed the display under an outdoor light and set it back out the weather. Artists and collectors can access the gallery without entering the building. So, they can stop by at any time to scoop up or leave a treasure.

“FLAG’s are reminiscent of the endless childhood hours spent creating tiny tableaus or scenes from collected treasures like rocks and feathers mixed with tiny figurines or other miniatures,” she wrote in a paper explaining the project and posted by the Alaska Humanities Forum.

Weigel explained that Juneau’s first FLAG came out of an ongoing project with the Alaska Humanities Forum that looks at what’s possible when community and media connect. She said in this case, she and her collaborators took a broad view of the term media.

“Our small group of Fellows, geographically centered on Southeast Alaska, wanted to know what happens when you look beyond western culture’s dominant forms of media. What stories do we see about communities when you expand your definition of the medium? Our collaboration into this space sent us in many directions,” she wrote. “We finally convened on a common medium used throughout our region: the community bulletin board. We wanted to know: what stories are told when the telling is completely decentralized? What do these boards say about a place and a people in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as an organic, community-driven storyspace?”

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How it works

The gallery operates on an honor system, with people taking and leaving the lilliputian pieces as they pass by.

Weigel said museum staff adds things from time to time, like a handful of photographs that appeared in the gallery this week. Earlier this summer, the staff put supplies into the box and encouraged people to create flags to celebrate the FLAG.

Weigel said she’s been surprised by the variety of items that artisans and crafters have dropped off. She said origami pieces had appeared alongside jewelry, collages, watercolors and painted rocks.

Overall, she thinks there have been slightly more things taken from the display than added but said there are usually items in the gallery.

Weigel asks that people collecting treasures leave the easels and other display pieces behind.

She said she’s surprised by how quickly some items move through the gallery, with some pieces being picked up shortly after they are added to the collection.

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Growing popularity

According to the Washington Post, the Free Little Art Gallery concept is growing in neighborhoods across the country and started as a response to pandemic-related restrictions that made it difficult for art lovers to visit museums and for artists to display work.

The Washinton Post resorts similar installations in Seattle, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Illinois.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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