Ashley Guest has built a reputation as one of the city’s most passionate art fans, and the Free Art Bham movement she’s created has made enthusiasts of hundreds of other Magic City residents. Free Art Bham just celebrated its third anniversary, and the movement has grown quickly in this time. Multitudes of Birmingham artists have joined the movement by giving their beautiful creations to Ashley each month, which she then hides around the city for residents to find. Those looking for clues follow Free Art’s social media to get the quickest tips. 

“It absolutely was a natural path,” shares Ashley about her path to art giveaways. She grew up with her grandmother teaching her how to shade with crayons and watercolor, and “always wanted to be an artist. I knew that I was meant to help people. So that’s always been a goal of mine to incorporate or marry both of those.” She wanted to do something to enrich her community and was inspired by the Tiny Doors Atlanta project. She reached out to the founder about bringing something similar to Birmingham and was told that she may be interested in the Free Art Friday movement. Things began rolling from there, and the Free Art Birmingham chapter began on July 13, 2018.

The art drops take place every Friday except for the last Friday of the month. Fun pieces by names like Harst, Art By Burx, Inked April, Lilnosoul, IllArtPeace, and many more who’ve connected with the project through a shared desire to brighten a city are placed in both distinguished and more off-beat locations throughout the city by Ashley and new co-curator Evan Minas. The Birmingham chapter is the only one that operates this way – most have the artists drop off the art themselves and take pictures for the page to share. Ashley’s approach provides a more community feel to the scavenger hunt.

A recent art drop featuring Natalie Zoghby at Ghost Train Brewery.

Keeping things a secret is an important part of the Free Art Bham mindset. Ashley feels that in a world full of access, there’s something sacred about keeping things on the downlow and using that to slowly build momentum and inspire others. She’s never sought to be the face of the project, but uses the platform to encourage people to put themselves out there and create even when they think they can’t. “I want to be a conduit for other artists. I want to lift other artists up that don’t have a lot of followers or a lot of fans. And I want to inspire that creativity inside of them.” Pretty much putting the coolest people in the city in a room and letting them get to know each other. 

Those featured on Free Art Birmingham met through a variety of ways but all share a passion for connecting. And this common bond is what keeps the page running. “All of the artists who give the time to their practice and want to give to their community” states Ashley. “Without them there would not be Free Art Bham. It just wouldn’t exist without the artists, so big shout out to anyone who has given any amount of anything.”

Another recent art drop featuring work by C U R B Studios. Image: Free Art Bham.

As Free Art Bham looks to the future, they hope to continue to inspire people to pick up art, get involved with some school programs and other fun projects, and keep finding innovative ways to connect the general public with a gem of a local art scene. They were encouraged by members of established Magic City fixtures like Innovate Birmingham and Birmingham Mountain Radio during their early stages and hope to provide the same uplifting to rising artists today.

One thing is for sure, Free Art Birmingham isn’t going anywhere. The joy it brings Ashley is only matched by the joy it brings to every individual with a unique piece hanging on their bedroom wall thanks to a Free Art Scavenger Hunt, and to every artist who gets to know they provided that feeling for their fellow Birminghamian. 

Lead Image: Lisa Ann Posey