Gena Robbins, Brenau University Director of Galleries is standing over a small table showing small art pieces.

Gena Robbins, Brenau University Director of Galleries, shows some of the small pieces of art submitted for Free Art Fridays.

Imagine a cold dreary January Friday in Gainesville. You drag yourself out of bed for that obligatory walk or jog you resolved to do five times a week. TGIF, you think. A chilly wind blows a tattered holiday ribbon from the sidewalk. Your gaze follows it to the base of a statue on the historic Brenau University campus. What’s that? Leaning against the bronze is a small, colorful whimsical painting. A closer look reveals the original creation is yours, free to keep. You continue with a spring in your step.

That’s the general idea behind Free Art Fridays, a Brenau movement to share art in the community. Brenau students and local artists create and donate original paintings, pottery, and other small works to plant along campus and downtown Gainesville walkways for people to discover.

Gena Brodie Robbins, Brenau director of galleries, debuted the free art movement in October and plans to continue it the last Friday of the month through April, when it may expand. Artists tucked more than 30 pieces of art in easy-to-spot nooks outdoors each Friday in October. Robbins reported creators, art finders and the university galleries reaped rewards. “It’s been great,” she said. Artists label their work with their name, website, and a congratulatory note that asks finders to send a message to Brenau galleries to receive a cup of hot cocoa, tea, or coffee, plus a gallery tour.

A downtown Gainesville bookstore employee shows the small artwork he found on one Free Art Friday.

Free Art Friday puts a smile on finder’s face.

Robbins said the artwork has inspired numerous townsfolk, students, and visitors to tag the galleries’ Instagram site and learn more about the university’s five exhibition spaces that are free and open to the public. “It’s not just that it brightens peoples’ day, it gets them to start thinking about art,” Robbins said. She added that some finders remarked they had never owned a “real piece of art before.” At the galleries, students, local residents and Gainesville visitors stepped into mind-opening artistic realms that transported them out of the humdrum through permanent collections and special exhibitions.

A Brenau student sitting at a desk painting a wooden dinosaur green.

Small wood creations are among the artwork hidden for Free Art Fridays. A Brenau student puts the finishing touches on her contribution.

Students who had never taken an art class gathered on Wednesdays to daub paint on 12-inch canvases to “hide” around campus early Friday mornings. Many melted away exam stress in December brushstroke-by-brushstroke. Finders in last month’s planned Free Art Friday may cherish pieces that soothed a student-artist’s exam-weary brain.

Pedestrians have found students’ original work and creations by local artists, including Jill Haack, who teaches brush techniques at the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Gainesville Garden. Submitted works include wood carvings, ceramic bowls and teacups, landscape paintings, plastic masks, and whimsical renderings of dinosaurs and unicorns.

Don’t be surprised to take home a free original painting by Lake Lanier artist Anne Brodie Hill, who told Lakeside she “probably will” stash a Lanier plein air work on a future Friday, perhaps near her gallery on the square. “It’s a good idea to get your name out there and get people interested in original art,” she said.

Robbins said she first encountered the free art movement at an artists’ retreat in the United Kingdom. She witnessed a pedestrian’s excitement upon finding a tagged original piece. She decided to export the movement to Gainesville. “What a great way to connect the community outside Brenau – the external community – with the students, staff and local artists,” she said.

To submit a piece, artists can bring their small artwork (under 12 inches) to the Brenau Sellars Gallery between 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Sellars Gallery is located on the first floor of the Simmons Visual Arts Center in the same facility as the Pearce Auditorium. The entry is between two bronze sculptures at 200 Boulevard.

Brenau Communications Department Editor Alyson Shields describes Free Art Fridays as pop-up joy. The movement has introduced people to the “awesome college galleries” and put a smile on their faces. “I like seeing people enjoy what we have here. And who doesn’t like a little treat,” she said.


Free Art Fridays & Gallery Information

What is Free Art Friday?

Pedestrians and passersby find artwork to keep throughout downtown and along walkways of Brenau University campuses; get free coffee, hot cocoa, pastry and tour exhibits at galleries, Jan. 26 and last Fridays through April. 770-534-6181.

Brenau Galleries

Brenau University presents five exhibition spaces and galleries that are free and open to the public. All but Renaissance and Manhattan are closed for holidays and summer months. Here’s a brief description of each:

  • Sellars Gallery: Located on the first floor of the Simmons Visual Art Center, 200 Blvd. Look for the entrance on the far right between two sculptures off the main lawn. Open 10-4 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. The university’s largest exhibition space features rotating exhibits plus a permanent collection. See Paul Paiment’s Nexus paintings of synthetic elements blended with the natural world Jan. 18-March 14.
  • Presidents Gallery: Located on the second floor of Simmons Visual Arts Center, above Pearce Auditorium, 200 Blvd. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Works include rotating exhibits plus a permanent collection. The bizarre surrealistic exhibit by local artist Chris Boyko is expected to continue through mid-January.
  • Leo Castelli Gallery: Located on the first floor of the John S. Burd Performing Arts Center, 429 Academy St. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Thur. Rotating exhibits. See Melissa Huang’s glitch-inspired paintings that study desire and dissonance Jan. 11-March 29.
  • Renaissance Gallery: Located in the Renaissance Building, 600 Spring St., downtown Gainesville. Open by appointment only. Contains a permanent collection, plus a Leggett Collection of realistic watercolor, oil and pastel paintings.
  • Manhattan Gallery: Located in Downtown Center Campus in the Ivester College of Health and Sciences Building, downtown Gainesville. Corner of Main St./Jesse Jewell Pkwy. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Thur. Houses a permanent collection, including works of New York artists Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns.

Photos: courtesy Brenau Galleries