Cleverly concealed art for the taking every Friday – throughout the Grand Strand?
That’s right: Free Art Fridays have arrived in Horry County.
Who is responsible for this new tradition?
Alli Baccus, owner of Grand Strand Arts, and Barbara Streeter, a Free Art Friday contributor and owner of Conway Glass Center, point to Sandi Snyder and Rachel Harris-Beck as the ones who brought the old tradition new life in Horry County.
Baccus said in an email Snyder and Harris-Beck are “two local artists leading the Free Art Fridays in Horry County initiative.”
Guilty as charged? Not so fast. Neither one was willing to take single-handed credit. It was a “joint effort,” they both agreed.
What is a Free Art Friday? Harris-Beck, who moderates the Facebook page Free Art Fridays: Horry County, said “It’s a day when artwork in any medium – video, music, spiritual healing articles, writing, recycled, fashion, even gifts for babies – is placed in the street for any member of the community to find. There is no criteria, no age restrictions, no cost, no expectations. All one needs to do is make something, post on Friday morning a hint to where someone might find it on our page and look for other artworks if they choose.”
Most givers place a note somewhere on the artwork indicating that it’s free.
It’s not a new concept.
“Detroit is doing some wonderful artwork and has a huge involvement in their Free Art Fridays,” said Harris-Beck, adding “the excitement has traveled to Wisconsin, Atlanta and now Horry County.”
Artwork is placed out and up for grabs in the streets on Fridays. Every single one of them.
The Free Art Fridays: Horry County Facebook page is where to find clues where the artwork is hidden ( www.facebook.com/groups/ 123089847855176/?fref=ts).
Participants can find it or hide it art anywhere. “Placed in the street” really does mean anywhere; it can be a cultural landmark or at the Visitor’s Center in Conway where Barbara Streeter says she and husband Ed hid a glass-blown baby chick recently. Harris-Beck said that while she can’t always find a landmark, she’s even left artwork at Wal-Mart and the gym.
Why would two young women devote themselves to a mission of enhancing community involvement and awareness?
Snyder said she’s “always looking for ways to advocate the arts” and Harris-Beck said the goal is “to get people inspired to give devoted art.” She knows “Not everyone can give every week,” noting she “ran out of things to give in the first month.”
Both women graduated from Coastal Carolina University and embarked on local art-related careers.
As the story goes, Free Art Fridays Horry County started after Snyder, an art teacher at Conway High School, went searching for ways to paint tin cans. Knee deep in a Google search, she discovered a YouTube video on Free Art Fridays in London. She contacted Harris-Beck, a former classmate, and it “just went from there.”
The Facebook page was created and now has 120 members as of press time. Anyone can join and it’s free.
“Though we are still building membership, there will never be a dull Friday,” said Harris-Beck.
Meanwhile, inspired by an artist who goes by the name “Mydog Sighs,” Snyder took a few of the found ideas and incorporated them into the classroom. She said they first decided to do an “Art Attack” that involved selecting a target, then plastering pieces of art throughout the recipient’s classroom. The students thought it was fun though there was a good bit of work to accomplish what turned out to be a huge undertaking in a short period of time.
Since she was actively participating in Free Art Fridays Horry County, Snyder thought, “why not try something similar at school?” She said at first the students were reluctant to make, then “give away” their art, but it caught on and, these days, that hesitance is a bit yesterday’s news.
A group was formed and the students, about eight of them, faithfully converge weekly in Snyder’s classroom to “create” the work they’ll give away. When finished, the art is personalized with a note accompanying it: “Dear Art Finder, A Conway Art Student created this piece of art especially for you to take home and treasure forever! Yes! You can really have it! All we ask is that you post a picture on Twitter @FAFCHS! With much creative love, Artists of CHS.”
While they all agree it’s amazing “fun” and “exciting,” each have various personal reasons for participating.
Jordan McBee said she likes doing it because she’s “able to do something fun for other people.”
Savannah Floyd, an 11th-grader, said she does it for “expression” while Courtney Short, a senior advanced placement art student planning a career in the Army, said art is “her life.”
Ashlee Harm said she “creates simple stuff” and just “puts it out for others.”
Daniel Johnson, also an 11th-grader who sketches, said he enjoys “the mystery of where it goes after you let it go.”
Once the creative process is finished, the group heads to the halls in search of the perfect “hiding” place. Usually done at a time when most other students are in classrooms, this enables the student to put art in clever, well-traveled areas (stairwells, water fountains) crevices, corners and even elevators. Some pieces are more obviously placed than others. .
Taylor Monahan reported she hid her creation with the beef jerky in the cafeteria.
Tracey Hall, media arts teacher, and Taylor Burroughs, an 11th-grader, were two happy first finders who excitedly showed off their findings as they posed for a picture.
Not long after the weekly ritual of hallway hiding commenced, Matt Alford appeared in the doorway of Snyder’s office to ask: “Hey, have you guys hidden the treasure pieces yet?” Standing in front of a poster taped to her door that reads “Today I will be happier than a bird with a French fry,” Snyder’s expression was an unmistakable reflection of the words she was leaning against.
Asked if they’ve ever found out who finds their art, most of the artists/students said no, but they do get curious.
Kirby Groome, a senior with plans to go to Clemson University and study either graphic communications or communication studies, said she doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account so she doesn’t have any way of knowing if her art is “found,” unless it’s by chance.
Wesley Murray is planning to join the Navy after graduation this year. He says he “gets attached to his art” and that he’d like to find out at times who finds his art, if they liked it or what they plan to do with it. Protective and passionate about the art he gives away, he mentioned that he always worries something will happen or the person won’t appreciate it as much as he would. In addition, Murray, said he also hopes to start something similar once he’s settled on a base somewhere.
Like Snyder and her students, Harris-Beck is also passionate about art and giving.
Advocating community involvement through art has been a working goal in progress for a while now. After graduating from Coastal Carolina in 2003, she became a gallery assistant then exhibitions assistant at The Bryan Art Gallery from 2006 to 2102. Along with promoting interest in Free Art Fridays, Harris-Beck is the founder of another project (which happens to tie in with FAF) called My Own Backyard, a “sustainable community organization.” It’s purpose: “to utilize and maximize area resources to benefit all Horry County non-profit organizations.”
An artist who “prefers the flexibility of mixed media/mediums and using visual art as a platform,” she mentioned “I also sew and knit so you never know what you might find at Free Art Friday.” .
“I think that people finding an unexpected treat creates involvement and joy in our community,” Harris-Beck added. “I’d love to see more children, families and seniors getting involved and personally hope that this will bring some major collaborations together between artists, galleries and other businesses.”
Both Snyder and Harris-Beck agree the main goal of Free Art Fridays is “to inspire people to get out and see their Horry County community.”
For the students, Snyder said it’s a great lesson in “learning to let go.”
Very soon, Snyder’s students will learn to “let go” a little further from home when their artwork crosses the ocean and lands on the streets of London. Mydog Sighs, the artist who inspired Snyder, is interested in an art exchange with her students.
The plan is to send student-created art across the pond and Mydog Sighs will hide it in downtown London. “It’s all very exciting,” Snyder said, “we can have Free Art Friday across the sea.”