You’re strolling down Washington Avenue in Miami Beach on a Friday evening when you spot a stunning portrait of a freckled young woman with tousled strawberry blonde hair, full rosy lips and a magnetic stare, peeking out of a bush and placed strategically between two palm trees. You immediately fall in love with the painting, and when you pick it up you notice a bright yellow sticker with a message.
“I’m yours to keep,” it says.
You take the art piece home and hang it on your living room wall.
Unknowingly, you’ve become part of the Free Art Fridays movement, which has rapidly made its way into Miami.
A work left by a Miami Free Art artist. Via Miami Free Art Facebook.
In this innovative “art game,” local artists and art fans take part in a scavenger hunt every Friday. Artists hide their work around the city, and whoever finds it gets to take it home free of charge. The artists post a clue (usually a photo) on a Facebook page, with over 6,000 Miami-based members; it’s up to fans to get there first and be the lucky ones to keep the piece.
The lucky art lover who found the hidden work. Via Miami Free Art Facebook.
Artists usually drop off the pieces in miscellaneous spots like on the front door of an abandoned house or under a park bench, and thanks to the power of social media, they’re gone in a matter of minutes. Some artists choose to leave the pieces in restaurants, landmarks or even outside of clubs in hopes of enticing more people to join the hunt.
Painter and art lover Nicole Eirea has been an active member and “art hunter” since “Free Arts Friday” surfaced in 2012.
“I remember the first artwork I found and got to keep through Free Art Fridays,” said Eirea. “I found it in Wynwood, inside an abandoned tire on the sidewalk. It was a sketch of a flower done by a little girl and I have to say, it was nothing special but the adrenaline rush and thrill I got looking for it made it very valuable to me. I still have it hanging in my room three years later.”
No one really knows where the fun and international art movement originated, but there Facebook pages for chapters in Canada, Israel, Mexico, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal and Serbia, to name a few.
Miami’s chapter was founded by a man who goes by “Registered Artist” who chooses to keep his identity a mystery. “It’s not really about me, it’s about the art,” he recently told SouthFlorida.com. “I started the group to unite artists, art collectors and anyone who loves a scavenger hunt.”
Everyone is encouraged to participate. All they have to do is make a work of art and leave it somewhere in Miami, together with their name and the local chapter’s information. The game comes full circle when a group member replies to an artist’s post with a photo of them holding the piece they left behind.
All kinds of art are welcome, including paintings, photos, sculptures and even poetry. Poet, painter and art collector Patricia Read writes a new poem every week and leaves them on beach chairs, lampposts or in envelopes inside a public library book.
“This is a wonderful movement that unites the community,” said Read. “Artists are able to produce and fans are able to collect priceless pieces to keep forever.”
Followers say that the project gives them a release and something to look forward to every weekend. Sometimes they find friends among their fellow art lovers.
Florida International University students Alexandra Perez and Maria Rodriguez were united by chance when they both drove to the same location with hopes of snatching a sketch posted by an artist one Friday.
“We both ran up to the scene and right as I was about to grab the sketch I see a girl running with her boyfriend in my direction,” said Perez. “She looked so disappointed that someone had gotten there first, so I just decided to give it to her and wait for the next hunt. We exchanged phone numbers and became friends. Now we try to get together at least once a month and hunt together.”
Whether it has brightened up a stranger’s day or given a burnt out artist purpose again, Free Art Fridays has brought an element of fellowship, entertainment and surprise to the art scene in Miami.
“The serendipity of this game has added a sense of determination to my life and created more room for chance and excitement,” said Perez. “It’s all about unexpected good luck and ending up at the right place at the right time.”