“Free Little Art Galleries” Are Catching on in Rural Maine

A largely urban phenomenon elsewhere, these small galleries are providing new, tiny outlets for local (and not-so-local) artists.

Petite pastels and shrimpy shell-art in Castine’s free little art gallery.

Petite pastels and shrimpy shell-art in Castine’s free little art gallery. Photo courtesy of Rosemary Wyman.

By Adrienne Perron
From our December 2021 issue

When Kinthi Sturtevant bought a quarter-acre plot of land on High Street in Eastport last fall, she didn’t know what to do with it. She doesn’t live in Eastport — or Maine, for that matter — but the retired IBM exec had fallen in love with the little city while visiting a friend, and she knew she wanted to somehow get involved in its vibrant arts community. An amateur painter, the New York-based Sturtevant had enjoyed taking her work to a “free little art gallery” in Brooklyn, and when her family suggested she open a FLAG of her own in down east Maine, she got to work on the 3-foot-by-3-foot Little K Gallery.

Castine’s free little art gallery. Photo courtesy of Rosemary Wyman.

FLAGs are similar to the “little free libraries” that have popped up on lawns and in public spaces nationwide in the last decade-plus (the nonprofit org Little Free Library has registered some 100,000 of them since 2012). But instead of housing books, these small structures are for artists and patrons to leave tiny artworks and/or find one to take home. As long as a piece of art fits in the space, the medium doesn’t matter: finger paintings, sculptures, pieces of knitting, and ceramics have all popped up at Little K, which Sturtevant modeled to look like “a little traditional Maine house.” And the gallery isn’t limited to local artists — since Eastport’s FLAG went up in July, artists from as far as Washington, Texas, and Maryland have mailed work to Sturtevant’s Eastport-based friend after connecting via Little K’s Instagram account (@little_k_gallery).

To hear the Washington Post tell it this summer, FLAGs are mostly materializing in arts-hub metros like Seattle, DC, and the San Francisco Bay area. Not so in Maine, where Eastport’s is joined by another in Castine, opened this summer by Castine Arts Association president Johanna Sweet, next to the town’s post office on Main Street. An artist in Cherryfield recently asked Sturtevant about copying her building plans to build a FLAG in that tiny down east community. Both Sturtevant and Sweet think free little art galleries will be springing up across Maine before long — and neither supposes that having a robust arts scene is a prerequisite.

“The galleries are a universal outlet for people to make things and feel safe to put their art out there,” Sweet says, “to tap themselves and find something within.”