Mini Art Galleries Bring Big Benefits to Northumberland
At the intersection of community connection and artistic expression lies a project that is small in size but large in heart. The Art Gallery of Northumberland (AGN) has partnered with community leaders to introduce Mini Art Galleries throughout the county. Six locations, stretching from Port Hope eastward to Brighton and north to Roseneath, encourage artists of all skill levels to engage with fellow makers.
These Mini Galleries don’t have the stature of some other community art projects — such as the massive murals you can find tucked away throughout the county — but still offer impressive benefits to the community’s cultural fabric. The galleries, which you’ll find perched on signposts around Northumberland County, are a microcosm of creativity and artistic experimentation.
Unlike a traditional gallery, works by amateur and experienced artists are hung side by side. Peering inside, you can spot tiny creations crafted with a variety of materials. There are acrylic painted canvasses, watercolours, intricate twisted wire sculptures, and creative ceramics waiting to be claimed by other artists participating in this small, communal art show.
Their ethos is similar to that of the little libraries established around the globe. Both projects use a take-one-leave-one system and act as a designated space intended for the swapping of materials to contribute positively to the communities they serve. An honour system encourages patrons who take a piece of art to replace it with something they have made.
Originally installed outside libraries in Port Hope, Brighton and Colborne in the summer of 2021, shortly after, additional ones were added at Lakeside Supermarket, Bewdley, Anwick Civic Centre, and the Cobourg Public Library. While COVID-19 protocols prevented many cultural institutions from welcoming visitors, this project allowed the community to continue engaging with art. The Mini Galleries acted as a respite for eager artists wanting to share their work while the doors of traditional galleries remained closed.
“People were excited to have that sense of community; it was sort of like creativity sprung a new meaning in lockdown,” explains Rachel Spence, who works in community engagement for the Cobourg Public Library.
The community proved receptive to the idea, soon contributing a variety of artworks, from mini ceramic creations to note card-sized felted projects. Artists of all skill levels took on the challenge of creating new pieces in miniature form. Established artists in the community joined the project, dropping off artworks and posting their locations on social media — allowing the most keen-eyed followers a chance to snag a mini masterpiece.
For community members new to making art, the galleries can act as a source of inspiration and motivation to contribute their own pieces.
Art-making, whether you consider yourself an amateur or a professional, is an excellent way to engage your brain and allow your imagination and creativity to flourish. A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that forty five minutes of creating art reduced the levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol for experienced and amateur artists.
A study in the same journal hypothesized that making art helps humans develop a more promising vision of the future.
Aside from scientific studies, many people who experience engaging with or creating art can vouch for its beneficial properties. Art-making can put you in a state of flow, where worries ease, and problems begin to slip away, even if just for a moment. Viewing art can do much of the same, as you take a reprieve from to-do lists to consider the art of another maker.
With Mini Art Galleries, these benefits are easy to access and come with minimal barriers. There is no closing time for these art spaces, no entry fee, and no stipulations on who can participate. Spence says that while she sees many library visitors stop by the Cobourg Mini Gallery, a specific memory of a patron connecting deeply with the project stands out. She remembers seeing a woman strolling around, looking distressed. Her expression told the story of someone having a particularly tough day, battling challenges that an observer would never know despite the visible upset across her face. Her route around the library led her to the Mini Gallery. In front of this cache of artworks, Spence saw her expression change from sombre to a look of gentle contentment as she picked up a piece of art for a closer look.
“It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen around the Mini Art Galleries,” recalls Spence, “taking a piece can really uplift and change someone’s whole day.”
In addition to the brain-boosting benefits of making art, Mini Galleries also allow new spaces for community connection. Artworks can be signed or submitted anonymously, allowing something similar to a pen pal relationship to begin within the community.
As you swap your hand-made work for something crafted by your neighbour’s hands, you know you are exchanging the ideas and feelings you put on paper with the thoughts and emotions your neighbour transferred into their art. It is at once establishing an intimate connection and one of anonymity. Participating in a communal project such as this allows people to develop a sense of belonging that can combat feelings of isolation. Within its confines, everyone is welcome to contribute and join their fellow artists in developing a community of makers who add creative flair to Northumberland.
These small galleries may be one of the few art spaces that keep their doors unlocked all day, every day. This means that there is always a place available for artists to contribute their work and view other artists’ creations.
By design, they do not operate as flashy arts spaces, but spotting one is like coming upon a treasure chest. Peering inside, you can discover the talents of your neighbours, and when you add your mini artwork, you help Northumberland’s artistic legacy continue to grow.
Whether it’s tiny drawings sketched by the hands of young makers or refined watercolour artworks crafted by experienced painters, the Mini Gallery has wall space available for every level of artistry.