Austin Community Revamps “Free Art Friday”

Story package by Taylor Villarreal, Trisha Zyrowski, and Samantha Grasso

Shot by Taylor Villarreal
Edited by Samantha Grasso

Austin Art Community Saves “Free Art Friday” From Extinction

Story by Trisha Zyrowski

When you walk into Nicole Clark’s living room, you’ll see a dozen pieces of art that she didn’t pay for. No, Clark isn’t a high-class art thief. However, she is an artist and active participant in Austin’s weekly event Free Art Friday.

During Free Art Friday, local artists make small pieces of art, like paintings and cross-stitching, and hide them in various spots around Austin on Fridays.

After taking a photo of their art and its hiding space, the artist uploads the photo to their Instagram account with the hashtag #ATXFreeArtFriday. Following the hashtag, Austinites can see what art is being hidden, and can follow clues as to where they can find it by looking at the Instagram photos. While many people may show up to the “drop” site to claim these art pieces, only one is the victor.

Free Art Friday hiding spots where artists commonly “drop” off art

Infographic by Trisha Zyrowski

While Free Art Friday allows Austinites to get in on some free artwork, the weekly event also gives artists the chance to share their original work with their Instagram followers and connect with other artists. Christine Muñoz, a Los Angeles expat, is an artist who moved to Austin in January.

Though only having lived in Austin for three months, Muñoz says people in the art community are much nicer than in Los Angeles, and that Free Art Friday has already allowed her to get connected within the local art scene.

“I feel like in LA people are super focused, very greedy, like, ‘It’s my success, I don’t want to share it,’” but Muñoz recalls with appreciation that Austin artists took her “under their wings,” immediately.

“I’m going to call Austin home for awhile,” Muñoz says.

Free Art Friday in Austin was started around two years ago by SprATX, a collective group of local street artists who “fill empty spaces with positive messages and beautiful art,” according to their website.

The concept of Free Art Friday is not unique to Austin—Atlanta, Georgia’s thriving scene began their Free Art Fridays in March 2013, according to their Facebook page.

While Austin’s branch of the weekly event quickly expanded under SprATX’s leadership, participation in Free Art Friday began to see a swift decline from both artists and art finders about a year ago.

Nicole Clark, who is also a manager for Austin’s Free Art Friday Instagram account, said the decline was most evident when SprATX became more busy and was no longer able to promote Free Art Friday on their own Instagram account.

Clark also says that before the weekly event’s decline, artists used to create larger pieces of art, eventually putting in large amounts of time, energy, and money (from art supplies) into a piece to just be given to someone for free. When that no longer became sustainable to full-time artists, they began hiding smaller art pieces and trinkets.

Unfortunately, the art finding community wasn’t interested in spending their time to find such small pieces, Clark says.

Together, these two variables created an unsustainable climate for Free Art Friday, further creating disconnect in the local art community.

Clark says she felt discouraged seeing so little participation in Free Art Friday, but she wouldn’t let this be the end of the new Austin tradition. Six weeks ago, Clark and two other local artists took it upon themselves to reboot the weekly event, the trio becoming the main organizers while still housing the project under SprATX.

Already, their new Instagram account to promote and encourage Free Art Friday between artists and art fans alike has amassed over 1,100 followers.

“People want to do it and they’re really into it, it’s just a matter of retraining expectations and retraining the culture,” Clark says.

“That kind of stuff makes us feel like this is why we’re doing it, this is why it’s so important to us, because those kids see that street art isn’t a bad thing.” – Nicole Clark

Instagram user and artist @THIS_BIRD_ has nearly 1,200 followers, his design of his trade being simple designs of birds. Clark refers to this artist as the “MVP” of their reboot: “So many people recognize his work.”

Many of his followers are families with kids who like to try and recreate his colorful, playful birds. His followers are always on the lookout for his canvases throughout the city, and take pictures with them once they’re found.

“That kind of stuff makes us feel like this is why we’re doing it, this is why it’s so important to us, because those kids see that street art isn’t a bad thing,” Clark says. “Their parents show them that it doesn’t mean you’re a thug or a gangster or whatever, just because you paint on an abandoned building.”

Many local artists believe Free Art Friday has given them a chance to share positivity, contribute to their community and connect with their supporters.

“All the time and dedication I’m putting into this, all the emotion, all the feeling, it’s gonna be in someone else’s hands. But being able to let it go, that’s awesome. That’s dedication,” Muñoz says. “Those are things I aspire to do, like being able to get to that point in life [where art is] just all growth. It’s not easy to come by that stuff.”

When local artists appear negative to the idea of giving away their art for free, Clark says she tries to persuade them by discussing the potential impact an artist could have in connecting with other local artists and art fans through Free Art Friday.

When an artist drops a popular piece of work, many people will rush to that location “in a matter of minutes,” Clark says. “The cool thing is bringing everyone together, not just the artists… Why would you wanna cut yourself off from those experiences?”

Looking toward the future, Austin’s Free Art Friday’s reboot team is inspired by Atlanta’s Thankful Thursday event. As a way to show appreciation for local artists, the Atlanta community hides art supplies for local artists on Thursdays—paints, brushes, pastels, and other tools that aren’t easy to come by as a full-time artist. Clark hopes to get the Austin program started soon.

“Only Austin can do it the way Austin does it,” Muñoz says.

The Austin Economic Impact of Artists

*Source: “The Economic Impact of the Creative Sector in Austin, Texas.” Austin Texas Government. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

The History of Street Art

*Source: Brown, Jordan. “Street Art.” Street Art. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
Infographics by Trisha Zyrowski


#ATXFreeArtFriday in Stills

Photos by Taylor Villarreal

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