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At these Lake Worth Beach galleries, visitors are encouraged to walk away with the art

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

Amy Shaw is curator of Lake Worth Beach's first Free Little Art Gallery, installed outside her home in March.

TRY LIFTING A painting from most art galleries, chances are you’ll end up in handcuffs. But at the four newest art galleries in Lake Worth Beach, the rules are different.

Walking off with the art is not only allowed, it’s encouraged.

It’s easy, too. Just about all of the art is no larger than the palm of your hand, small enough to fit into your pocket.

Tropical watercolors, wood sculpture, painted portraits. They’re among the dozens of teenie weenie creations on display 24/7 in the Free Little Art Galleries that have popped up in four Lake Worth Beach neighborhoods since March.

The four FLAGs, as the curators casually refer to the tiny art museums outside their homes, look and function just like the popular Little Free Libraries that have been posted in yards around town for years.

Instead of taking and leaving a book, you take and leave a small piece of art — whether it’s an impressionist seascape or a painting (on the back of a circular ice cream box lid) of a dog in a frog costume.

Ellen Negley watercolors at her Free Little Art Gallery in Lake Worth Beach (The Allen Team)

Pieces come and go every day, keeping each gallery fresh and vibrant.

“Sometimes (visitors) look around and are afraid to take anything. I’m like, ‘Yes, take it! You can take it!’’’ said Amy Shaw, curator of the city’s first Free Little Art Gallery outside her Tropical Ridge home in the 100 block of North F Street.

The Lake Worth Beach galleries are among more than 200 Free Little Art Galleries across North America and as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Some started going up as early as 2019, an extension of outdoor public art endeavors like the art galleries that went up inside old phone booths in the United Kingdom five years ago.

Shaw’s Free Little Art Gallery is believed to be the first of its kind in Palm Beach County, perhaps even in South Florida.

It went up in March, with help from her boyfriend John Connolly, after she read online about a little gallery that was installed in a Seattle neighborhood about 10 months into the pandemic.

“As museums and galleries were closing, these started popping up. I wanted to do the same and give back to the neighborhood,’’ said Shaw, an editor for an information content and technology company.

Shaw said she was amazed at the reaction from her Tropical Ridge neighbors. Once she started using Facebook and Instagram to share photos of her gallery with the daily artwork contributed by strangers, visitors came from as far away as Cooper City started coming by.

Shaw’s Facebook images also caught the eye of a college friend, Amy Ferriter, who fell in love with the idea of spreading more Free Little Art Galleries around town as a way to connect the city’s neighborhoods.

“It just lends itself to the personality of Lake Worth Beach,’’ Ferriter said. “There are so many artists in town, it's just the perfect connection.’’

Ferriter shared her idea with two other friends, watercolor artist Ellen Negley and Realtor Erin Allen, who in 1995 helped launch the Lake Worth Street Painting Festival.

“The reason I started the street painting festival was to change the image of Lake Worth and bring art in a non-intimidating format to people who might not set foot in an art gallery,’’ Allen said.

The Free Little Art Gallery concept “is the same thing,’’ she said. “It’s bringing the art directly to the people.’’

Erin Allen with her granddaughter Ivy. (Contributed)

The Allen Team, a real estate company run by Erin Allen’s family, agreed to underwrite the costs of 12 FLAGs. Each pre-made box of bare wood is purchased online for $350 from a vendor in Canada.

With help from Connolly, the women sanded, primed, painted, sealed and furnished the first four galleries. Connolly created tiny benches and tiny shelves and easels for the artwork.

“We purchased the raw box. Everything else was a labor of love,’’ Connolly said.

Like many FLAGs across the United States, the Lake Worth Beach galleries have clean, contemporary designs that make them look and feel like a real gallery, with tiny benches for sitting and teenie weenie patrons made of wood or plastic.

“It almost looks like a doll house. It makes you feel like a kid again,’’ Shaw said.

But while visitors are encouraged to take art, they’re supposed to leave the tiny plastic patrons in peace.

“Please do not kidnap the patrons,’’ Connolly said with a smile.

Negley designed logos on the sides of the galleries, including one that stands in front of her Parrot Cove home in the 1100 block of North Ocean Breeze.

Negley’s little gallery has interior lights, too, triggered via motion sensor to accommodate nighttime visitors.

Aside from Shaw’s and Negley’s tiny art galleries, two others stand on wooden posts outside homes in Eden Place (1500 block of North K Street) and Mango Groves (400 block of 11th Avenue North).

Two more galleries have been made and are awaiting city approval before they open on the south end of Bryant Park around Fourth Avenue South and South Lakeside Drive and at The Hatch art gallery at 1121 Lucerne Ave.

John Connolly installs the Mango Groves gallery. (Contributed)

But those six are just the beginning.

Curators are wanted for other city neighborhoods. You don’t have to be an artist. You just have to be committed to checking your gallery every day.

“We are seeking curators that would be very hands-on with their galleries,’’ Ferriter said.

Prospective curators should email inquiries to

Connolly will install the yard posts and gallery box.

Shaw encourages prospective curators to do what she did before the galleries arrive — call 811 to make sure the posts avoid any utility lines.

“We hope it evolves into something bigger,’’ Allen said.

To spread the word, Negley created a FLAG map to encourage visitors to take a 4-mile stroll or bike ride along the gallery trail.

The organizers envision bike shops giving out the FLAG maps with rentals. Local eateries and bars may be enlisted to offer discounts for FLAG crawls.

“I’d love to see in the future a map with all 18 neighborhoods that have at least one gallery so you can hike or bike in our neighborhoods and kind of appreciate the local art scene at the same time,’’ Ferriter said.

(Map by Ellen Negley Watercolors)

The four FLAGs have their own artsy names.

Shaw’s gallery is called “F Street Cubed” because it's the third “little” box in her front yard. She has another free little art gallery, which is filled with chalk and blocks for children, and on the opposite end of her front yard is a Little Free Library.

Negley’s is called “Ocean’s 11.’’ The North K Street FLAG is called “Eden Musee” and the Mango Groves gallery is “Art Mango.’’

If Shaw is out of town for a few days, she enlists a neighbor to take over as an “acting curator” until she returns.“It really brought the neighborhood together,’’ she said.

Art is taken and added to each of the four FLAGs every day.

“That’s what it's all about — local people sharing their art with other local people. I actually see people look inside and then look at the house like, ‘Is this really what I'm supposed to do?’ Yes, in fact it is,’’ Negley said.

“I especially love this latest contribution done on playing cards by Donna Isley Wright which I think are adorable. I did not see her put them in here. I don't know Donna Isley Wright, but I very much appreciate her creations.’’

Locals aren’t the only art contributors.

Admirers from Texas and Maryland have mailed pieces of art to Shaw after seeing her FLAG on Instagram.

"Looks like a Christmas elf visited Ocean’s 11 Free Little Art Gallery last night. Needlepoint on corks! Feel free to be a Scrooge and scoop em up!" read a FLAG Lake Worth Beach Facebook post earlier this week.

Jori Grozier, curator of the Eden Musee FLAG, commented: "Oh my gosh!! Amazing! The creativity being shared is soooo inspiring!''

When the internet went down this past weekend, some Lake Worth Beach residents decided to get out of the house and go for walks. They encountered Shaw's little gallery.

“I feel like Lake Worth Beach is the artiest place around,’’ Negley said. “It’s absolutely weird and wonderful and I like that about it. “

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