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SURPRISE! Local artists have a secret, and it’s yours to keep – if you can find it

Sharon Roemmel shows off her art during the class.

Sharon Roemmel shows off her art during the class. Courtesy photo

Dee Anna Morgan has been an arts and crafts gal as far back as she can remember.

“We are neighbors with Jessica Ramey, and one day she sent me a Facebook invite to ‘like’ the Free Art Friday page,” says Morgan, who lives with her husband Hugh in South Salem.

Both worked for the state of Oregon and are now empty nesters, so with Ramey’s invite and time on her hands, Morgan got busy creating art to be dropped off somewhere in Salem each Friday for an unsuspecting person to find and keep.

“It’s fun looking for new and creative drop sites, imagining someone’s surprise, reading the occasional ‘I found it,’ on the Facebook page,” says Morgan, who started leaving her handcrafted “treasures” around town about a year ago.

Ramey says, “If you like scavenger hunts and you like art, or if you like making art to share, Free Art Friday is for you. The idea is simple: An artist creates a piece of art, hides it in town, takes a photo as a clue and posts it to our Facebook page. Anyone who finds it keeps it for free — no strings attached.”

Ramey got the idea to host Free Art Friday in Salem after following the work of My Dog Sighs, a graffiti and street artist in the United Kingdom.

“In England, he’d leave his work on the streets for people to find, and he’d take photos to share online,” says Ramey, also a driving force behind the Little Free Libraries springing up around Salem and neighboring cities. “I started following his work and in January 2013, friends and I decided that we should bring the movement to Salem. We were the first town to embrace the Free Art Friday project in Oregon.”

Although the movement started in England, My Dog Sighs says no one owns it. Today, Free Art Friday has become a global art movement bringing free art to streets, parks, alleys and the homes of those who find it.

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Dee Anna Morgan, shown here with husband Hugh Morgan, loves arts and crafts, and has been active in the Free Art Friday program, where she favors hiding her art outside of downtown Salem.

Ramey says she was impressed by the art My Dog Sighs created from metal soup cans and other discarded recyclables.

“I’ve always been interested in creating art from discarded materials, and love the concept of connecting strangers through art,” she says. “It doesn’t have to cost much or take a lot of time to create something meaningful in the community.

“I often have lots of art that I’ve created that sit on shelves or hide in closets,” she adds. “Free Art Friday is a great way to inspire adults of all ages to make art and share it in their community.”

Ramey says participation ebbs and flows, with just one artist, or up to 20 artists distributing art each Friday.

“When we create an organized activity, we get more interest,” she says. “But the great thing is that people can do this on their own time any time they like. And we’ve inspired others to do this in their community. Soon McMinnville had a group formed, then Portland and Bend. And now Dallas is getting started.”

What inspires Ramey to participate are the meaningful connections she makes with other artists.

“One artist in particular was struggling to get outside of her home due to anxiety and illness,” she says. “Free Art Friday helped her feel engaged in her community, and she started participating regularly.

“Another aspect of Free Art Friday is making art accessible to all,” she adds. “I’ve had a homeless man pick up my art, and I’ve had a municipal judge pick up one. Art does not discriminate, and it goes home with the person who connects with it. I hope that these small experiences bring hope and a sense of wonder to the finder.”

Ramey says participating in the weekly art outreach has gotten her out of her comfort zone, helping her to realize how important art is to communicate culture and values.

“I like to include my children in the art drops,” says Ramey, whose 13-year-old daughter Bella also makes art to leave for others. “Then they can see that simply one person who shares their talents can help make a difference.”

Her favorite hiding places are in the downtown core area, she says.

Morgan favors hiding her art outside of downtown, and in an area most likely to reach someone who might not otherwise be exposed to the movement — senior centers, retirement homes, bus stops and outlying areas of town. She often takes her young grandsons so that her time is “doubly enjoyable.”

“Paper crafts are my super power,” she says. “Mostly I drop handcrafted cards. On one occasion, I dropped a baby boy card with a coordinating knitted cap.”

Derek, her 5-year-old grandson, asked her, “Why do you give away your art?” And Calvin, 6, nailed her reason with, “I think it makes people feel good.”

Anyone interested in looking for free art, which can be hiding anywhere in town, can simply follow Free Art Friday’s Facebook page to find clues.

“Anyone can participate,” Ramey says. “It’s easy to make art and leave it for people to find. We have Free Art Friday tags you can download and add to your art, or make your own. There are really no rules. Simply go out, leave art and have fun.”

For more information, visit facebook.com/groups/freeartfriday/.

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