Art free-for-all

You’re walking down the street Friday and notice a painting in some random spot — perhaps a canvas leaning on a lightpole or nestled between bushes. If there’s a note attached mentioning “Free Art Fridays,” then scoop it up and take it home!

That piece of art is part of an impromptu, social media-led scavenger hunt that is spreading throughout South Florida.

As part of Free Art Fridays, or FAF, artists have been dropping off works every week at random places throughout Broward and Miami-Dade counties, typically near recognizable landmarks such as Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlor in Dania Beach or AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami. Then they take to their Facebook group pages to provide clues, posting photos of the object and its location.

The art “hunters” have to check social media constantly and be quick, or lucky enough, to be in the right place at the right time. Depending on the time and location of the drops, some items are picked up minutes after placement.


PHOTOS: 2013 SunFest Music Festival

“The first time I did it, I got this lady with her kids following me,” said artist Pay Aponte, who has been leaving his paintings on the streets of downtown Hollywood. “I was taking pictures to put clues [on Facebook], and I felt like somebody was following me. She said, ‘Sorry, we saw you, we’re here.’ So I gave it to her son.”

Aponte, 37, a technology specialist with Nova Southeastern University’s IT department, does original works for FAF and tries to bring more Broward artists into the Friday hunts.

“I like it because I feel like I’m active in this art community,” Aponte said. “Sometimes when you’re growing as an artist you have to give yourself away for free.”

The Broward FAF grew out of Miami’s FAF, which started during last year’s Art Basel. Broward’s group has amassed about 84 members since early June, while Miami’s group has grown to almost 1,700 since December. (Still, these numbers represent people who’ve joined the Facebook groups, and not necessarily the number of people who participate, since non-members who walk by a piece can pick it up.)

Some artists think it’s just a matter of time before it continues north to Palm Beach County.

“As viral as everything is right now, if it’s being distributed with Facebook … it’ll probably get here soon,” said Amanda Linton, 34, who owns Ink and Pistons, a gallery and tattoo shop in West Palm Beach. “I wanted to start doing something like that up here, like a scavenger hunt or a gallery crawl, but maybe this would be simpler because it’s not so organized.”

That was the point. Though FAF events take place every Friday, they are not staged by any one particular leader, like Steve Sticht’s Art Scavenger Hunt in FAT Village, which takes place once a year.

In fact, the man who started the Miami group is something of a mystery, known only as Registered Artist.

“It’s not really about me, it’s about the art,” said the 30-year-old, who keeps his identity secret because he’s a street artist. His public name is a play on the job he’s trying to protect: He’s a registered nurse.

“This way people don’t associate me with anyone else, and it’s more focused on the art.”

He says he learned about the trend from an Australian artist he sometimes trades works with. The international Free Art Friday blog at FreeArtFriday.Blogspot.com credits a British artist known as My Dog Sighs with starting the trend on the photo-sharing site, Flickr.com.

“There are good artists dropping good stuff, but you really have to fight for it,” said Irma Garcia, 52, an art collector and owner of the gallery, Arte VenezolanoÖ en Miami, in the Bird Road Art District. “Sometimes you see three or four of us [hunters] running like crazy.”

Garcia has been collecting art for 30 years and looks for FAF pieces every week. So far, her favorite find is a painting by Bird Road artist Mano that could have “sold easily for $700,” she said. The value of each piece may vary, but these art hunters can see what they’re getting beforehand, since they’re looking at posted pictures of the items.

Artist Rosa Arias, 33, from Hollywood, had stopped drawing before joining FAF, but now the group motivates her to make something new every week. “Every day you’re thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ for that Friday,” she said.

Arias owns Vapor Geeks Lounge, an electronic-cigarette store in downtown Hollywood. Instead of leaving her sketches and prints out in the rain or heat, she has FAF hunters come to her.

“Since I have my own store, I like to do it a little bit different,” Arias said. “I make people do the chicken dance, or the Carlton dance [from ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’]. Since it’s a bigger piece, I like to make them do something fun to get it.”

Follow the Free Art Friday movement in South Florida: BrowardFreeArtFridays.com and MiamiFreeArtFridays.com.