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Art Populi: Creators Abandon Art For 'Free Art Friday'

WUSF recently launched an occasional series called “Art Populi,” an occasional series that is focusing on public art.

From city murals to street sculptures and free art, we're hoping to shed a new light on the Tampa Bay's art scene.

For our second story, we follow two artists as they abandon their creations in Pinellas and Pasco Counties.

Laura Albright is walking down Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete. She's looking to drop a leather necklace with a citrine and metal pendant - on purpose.

"You're making art to give to the world in the first place, so if you're just keeping it and it's not going anywhere... you basically want to put a smile on someone's face that day,” Albright said.

She stops in front of a large, colorful rhino on Central Avenue. There, she stoops to the rhino's feet and places her necklace, protected by a paper bag, hoping someone will find it. Albright posts a picture of the bag to a group on Facebook so art seekers can hunt for it.

"Hint. Say, find on Central,” Albright says, typing out a message on her smartphone. “Then it has an image of the rhino and the free art bag at the bottom."

This is her bi-monthly way of giving back to the community through "Free Art Friday," a loose collection of artists around Tampa Bay who leave paintings, pottery, handmade jewelry and other pieces in public spaces for others to find.

The whole idea of "art abandonment" started four years ago in Vancouver, British Columbia.

It's the brainchild of Michael DeMeng, who enjoys leaving doodles on napkins in cafes. His Facebook friends enjoyed the photos he posted of his abandoned sketches, so he started a group to share the idea.

“People were sort of going crazy over these images of art being left behind,” DeMeng said.

Search for #ArtAbandonment or #FreeArtFriday on Instagram or other social sites and you'll travel the globe seeing art that has been dropped off.  The idea is that it's posted on social media and the people who find it can respond and share.

DeMeng says free art bridges gaps between the haves and the have nots. Not everyone can afford a painting from a gallery, or jewelry that takes hours to design and craft.

“Art is something that's supposed to be for everybody,” DeMeng said. “It's a hard thing. On one level, artists want to make a living - they don't want to give their art away. But on another level, as an artist you feel, 'well, it shouldn't just go to rich people.'"

St. Pete isn't the only place in Tampa Bay where art is being intentionally dropped. Trina Messano and Andrea Van Scoyoc run a Free Art Friday group in Pasco County.

One recent afternoon while walking along main street downtown New Port Richey, Andrea Van Scoyoc said her passion is leaving drawings and fabric dolls around the city.

"I know that times are hard and money isn't always readily available and people like to get things, they like to find things, they like to have things, but who has got 200 to 300 dollars just to spend on art?” Van Scoyoc said. “So if they're creative and open-minded, like Trina and I are, they'll pick up the little pieces and they'll appreciate them."

She explains that people who stumble across the piece have a clue that it's theirs to keep.

"We put a little note that tells them they have found free art and to take a picture and visit us on the Free Art Friday West Pasco Facebook page,” Van Scoyoc said.

Van Scoyoc doesn't know whether her art will be picked up. She usually doesn't hang around to find out.

And Michael DeMeng , the creator of the Art Abandonment movement, said that's part of the experience for the artist.

"You do have to sort of give this thing, sort of let it go, and let it go into the world, and maybe it'll be found, maybe it'll get thrown into the trash,” DeMeng said. “You just never know."

Van Scoyoc ‘s walk to her car takes her past the  New Port Richey antique store where she left a colorfully stitched, fabric bunny. The fabric bag encasing it is still hanging off the back of the bench.

"It's still there,” Van Scoyoc said with a sigh. “Nobody's taken it yet. I figure somebody'll get it."

Hopefully, she said, when they do, they'll post a photo and message on Facebook for her to see.

WUSF News invites you to contribute to our Art Populi series. Grab your phone and send us your thoughts and pictures of abandoned art. Tweet us @WUSF, or find us on Facebook and Instagram @WUSFPublicMedia. Make sure you use the hashtag -- #WUSFPubArt.

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.
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