Is that a new Little Free Library on the northwest end of Village Green Park, across from Blakely Hall? Nope! It’s a Free Little Art Gallery (FLAG), and it’s just as wonderful. The idea is to take a piece of art for yourself, leave a piece of art for someone else or simply enjoy the view.
Local artist Tina Velazquez Hayes, who partners with Issaquah Highlands on community art projects, is the creative mind behind the new FLAG. The gallery is making its second stop in Issaquah after a stint at the intersection of Bush Street and the Rainier Trail.
Previously, it was filled with all kinds of creations: sculptures, paintings, drawings and fiber art. One drawing was added of a house on Bush Street, known as the Skeleton House (#issaquahskeletonhouse on Instagram) because of its Halloween decor. Hays says the home’s owner was able to snag that piece of art and now she has it framed in her house.
“It’s very, like, meta and cyclical,” she says. “That’s cool.”
The Issaquah FLAG was formed out of Hayes’ efforts to transition her studio practice into the public art space to promote accessibility, especially as it relates to promoting mental health.
“I heard about this kind of phenomenon that started as early as 2017, and then I saw an article about a Free Little Art Gallery that was in Seattle by an artist, Stacy Milrany…,” she says. “And so I thought, ‘What a great idea for the pandemic…making art accessible even in times when we can’t necessarily gather in close proximity to one another!’”
Hayes then wrote a grant for the City of Issaquah Arts Commission and received funding to help with the project in hopes of continuing to spread joy beyond COVID-19. After receiving the grant, she took steps to figure out how to make her vision come to life.
“I knew I wanted to make something that would last, and if I did that, it probably wouldn’t last one of our winters, so I was seeking some more expert help,” Hayes said.
She reached out to longtime Issaquah resident Bill Morse, the previous owner of her house and an excellent woodworker. Morse, a retired Issaquah High School teacher, enlisted the help of his former IHS classmate Dick Campbell. He also taught woodshop and eventually retired from Liberty High School as principal.
“Bill said, ‘I met this artist, and she has a project. I’m gonna help. Do you want to help the helper?’” Campbell said. “So that’s what we ended up doing.”
And help they did.
Hayes wanted the FLAG to have a historical connection to the community. Using Campbell’s portable sawmill, he and Morse were able to build the gallery with lumber from a 55-year-old redwood tree that an arborist removed from downtown Issaquah.
The generosity of these two “old Issaquah” residents extended beyond the FLAG. Morse and Campbell donated their labor costs to build the gallery, Hayes said. As a result, the fee that had been written into the grant for a contractor was donated to the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank at the helpers’ request.
“As long as it fits in the gallery, it’s good to go,” Hayes said, referring to rules about leaving art in the FLAG. “I just ask for gallery etiquette and that people don’t cover work that’s already in the gallery.”
So, if you have a two-dimensional piece, gently slide it behind what’s already there. If you want to add a three-dimensional piece, try to share the space as best as you can.
The FLAG will remain in Issaquah Highlands for at least six months before it makes its next stop at a yet to be determined location. Hayes hopes it will eventually head back to her neighborhood.
Follow the Issaquah Free Little Art Gallery on Instagram: @flag_issaquah.