Hashtag leads locals to free art every Friday

Jackie Wang

Every Friday, Austin turns into a playing field for a free art hide-and-seek game.

On Instagram, the hashtag #ATXFreeArtFriday is the only road map to the different pieces of free art scattered across Austin. Local artists post visual clues on Instagram each Friday and mark their photos with the official Free Art Friday hashtag.

Art collective SprATX started Free Art Friday. Molly Maroney, UT alumna and SprATX co-founder, said Free Art Friday had been going on in other parts of the country before coming to Austin.

“It started out of a fun idea,” Maroney said. “[Someone said], ‘Let’s put out some free art and try this thing that’s happening.’ When we did it, it caught people’s attention, and people who were finding things started putting things out. 

Free Art Friday is open to everyone. Rosa Sandoval, who works as a certified clinical hemodialysis technician, started participating soon after she moved to Austin from Ocala, Florida. Austin sparked creativity that Ocala never did, Sandoval said.

“I found SprATX, saw one Friday they were doing it, so I made a few pieces that day and put them out,” Sandoval said. “I’ve done so much more here in a year and a half than I ever did [in Ocala]. I love doing it, hiding stuff for people.”

Sandoval hid one of her latest pieces, a pillow featuring the cartoon character Doug with a cape flowing behind him, by the Short Bus Subs food truck. Sandoval usually drives around the city with her dog to hide her pieces, trying not to over-think her placement. 

“I pretty much just pick spots,” Sandoval said. “If you hide them too close, then the person who finds the first thing will find the second thing too. Once, I hid something in BookPeople in the children’s section. Most of the time, I hide them outside.”

Studio art junior Michael Martin has hidden an art piece in the past and plans to hide more in the future. The first piece he hid was a screen print commemorating Houston’s rap culture. 

“It was a line of promethazine syrup bottles, Andy Warhol style,” Martin said. “If you listen to Texas rap, the syrup is just all over the place. It’s a prescription drug.”

Sandoval said she will hide two pieces on campus Friday and post clues on her Instagram account, @rosiepantaloons. She said she looks forward to scavengers’ reactions the most. 

“That’s the best part, when people find it,” Sandoval said. “I don’t always do this, but sometimes I’ll hide it and hang out and wait and see someone find it. People have jumped up and screamed, ‘It’s so cute.’”

According to Maroney, SprATX has no concrete plans for the future of Free Art Friday. 

“It started as a community project, and it continues to be one,” Maroney said. “It’ll go where Austin wants to.”