It’s just after two in the afternoon on a hot summer day in southern Atlanta. I’m enjoying a set of Delia’s chicken-sausage sliders covered in “comeback” sauce while scrolling through Instagram. This would seem very normal except for the fact that I’m not alone. My wife is beside me, eating her own chicken-sausage sandwich scrolling through Instagram, and across the table, my brother and his fiancée are doing the same. Neither of us says anything; we just eat and scroll, eat and scroll.
My brother cuts the silence with, “I know where this one is. It’s only a few miles from here.”
We quickly clean up the table and jump in the car. I pull up Instagram and constantly refresh to look for new comments. My brother weaves a path through back roads and side streets as if we’re in a high-speed chase scene.
“Anything new?” My brother’s excitement caries throughout the entire car.
“Nothing yet,” I respond. It’s only been about ten minutes since the video was posted, and we’re almost there. The tension level in the car is quickly rising.
“We’re getting close,” my brother says. “There’s nowhere to pull over, so I’m just going to put the hazards on, and someone needs to get out. We’ll make the people behind us angry, so move quickly.”
We pull up to the spot, and there it is: a giant framed painting of fat angel babies with their faces replaced with hand-painted pieces of toast—a true work of art.
My future sister-in-law jumps out of the car and grabs the painting. It’s much bigger than it seemed on Instagram. She jumps back in the car, and we’re off, allowing the traffic to resume its normal flow.
Free Art Friday
In the short month that my brother has lived in Atlanta, he’s discovered the “Free Art Friday” movement or #fafatl for short. What, I assume, started as a Friday only thing has spilled out to every day of the week. Local artists create unique works of art, hide them somewhere in the city, post a picture with a clue on Instagram, and the race to find it begins.
When I first published this story, the origins of the movement were vague at best. I could find the clearest information from a Blogspot page that credited the movement to someone named My Dog Sighs on Flickr almost ten years ago. But thanks to a response here, I learned Evereman started the movement. He started creating pieces in the early 2000s and placed them out in Atlanta with a 4U marked on them to indicate they were for the public. In the years since over 30,000 Evereman pieces have been shared in Atlanta and around the world. He even gave a TEDx presentation in 2012 to share his story.
My brother has found several free art pieces — typically magnets — and in turn, has discovered some great artists. More importantly, he has gained a real sense of the place he now calls home. He knows the back roads and the different neighborhoods, largely in part to his #fafatl hunts.
Recently, while visiting my brother, my wife and I got sucked into the hunt. We put our Instagram and Google skills to the test, all searching for great pieces of free art.
The Hunt Begins
Dinner is at Krog Street Market, a kind of food court for people with unique tastebuds. There are six of us at the table, and while we’re eating and enjoying company, we’re keeping an eye on Instagram as well.
The #fafatl hashtag has been pretty quiet for the past half hour or so — it is a Sunday evening, after all. There’s a piece that was posted nearly two hours ago that is extremely vague in description. This particular piece was teased earlier in the day and is at the top of my hit list. The only problem is I’m not familiar with the area at all, and my brother and his friend can’t figure out the location from the few clues in the video.
The piece in question is the first drop from @FAFilmBooth. It’s a sort of prize ribbon made out of the film with a quote from the movie Ronin. The art is unique because most of the #fafatl pieces are wooden in nature. The location, unfortunately, eludes us.
“There’s a new one,” I remark refreshing the feed on Instagram. “They even left a location tag.”
“Pull it up on the map,” my brother answers.
This is rare. Most of the art drops are left without a location to make the hunt that much more difficult. Had @FAFilmBooth included the location, the Ronin ribbon would have been long gone by now.
“It’s only a block and a half from here,” I respond. “Let’s go for it.” My wife and I get up from the table, leaving the rest of the group behind to finish eating and continue searching for the hidden location of the film ribbon.
My wife and I walk the block and find the parking lot in question, but in the short ten minutes, the photo was on Instagram; the piece was already claimed. We walk back to Krog Street empty-handed.
Free Art Friday: The Artists
Artists that participate in #fafatl are just as varied as the pieces they drop. There’s @FAFilmBooth who only works in film; @Doodle.Me.Crazy seems to have a thing for cats; @TravelingToast — the creator of the angel toast painting — works mostly in wooden pieces of, well, toast, each with their own personality; @WhhittleMeThis_ATL creates wooden carvings and paints them; @PoopsATLspecializes in unique wooden poops… the list literally goes on and on. Anyone can participate, all it takes is imagination and Instagram.
“Traveling Toast just commented on the piece I just missed out on,” I comment while reading the Instagram feed on the missed opportunity near Krog Street Market. “He says he just dropped something in the same place. I’m heading back down there!”
My wife and I take off again, this time faster, spurned by our loss. The @Doodle.Me.Crazy piece that we missed out on was interesting, but this is a @TravelingToast! the 11th toast drop would complement my brother’s angel toast very well.
We get to the building, but the picture is cryptic — as a good scavenger hunt clue should be — I go one direction while my wife goes the other.
The parking lot is empty except for a rental car with the driver playing on their phone. Only about two minutes passed since @TravelingToast posted the picture. I assume that this is the artist himself checking out the latest #fafatl postings.
My side of the building doesn’t have any spots like the one in the picture, so I head towards my wife. I meet her around the corner, and in her hand is @TravelingToast Number 11. We pull up the post and leave a note that we “claimed” the piece, so other hunters know not to waste their time looking. The celebration begins back at Krog Street.
We only spent one full day in Atlanta. In that time, our hunt took us all across the south-eastern part of the city. We didn’t get everything we hunted — some people are lame and don’t mark things as claimed — but all in all, we did get seven different Free Art Friday pieces. Three of them returned to Orlando with my wife and I.
Dinner at Krog Street has turned into dessert at Jake’s nearby. We’re all stuffed and high on the exhilaration from our day-long hunt for art. But the film ribbon still eludes us: over two hours and no comments, no claim, and no real direction.
We know that it’s in the area. The style of street art and rail yard point to the tangle of tracks in this part of town, but it’s like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. My brother has spent the last twenty minutes searching Google Maps.
“All the train tracks in this area run parallel to the road,” he explains. “But in the video, the road intersects the track.”
“That’s a good observation,” I think while eating homemade strawberry ice cream at a picnic table in the setting sun.
“I found it,” he exclaims a few minutes later. He hands me the phone, now switched to Google Street View, and there it is — the yellow railroad thing from the video. “It’s only a few minutes from here.”
We head back to the car, and the chase is on. There are still no comments on the picture, and my brother is driving like crazy. This piece has been hours in the making — we all hope that it’s still there.
We find the intersection with the railroad — the tracks have been abandoned and converted to a walking trail. My wife and I jump out of the car and head down the path as fast as possible, leaving our family in the car. We see the spot where the ribbon should be about a hundred yards down the path.
Coming from the other direction is another couple walking a dog. Is this competition? Are they hunting the art too? They don’t have their phones out looking for specific details, so maybe not?
I see the film strip attached to the metal rail, just off the path. Diverting off the path directly towards it, I hope to cut off the other couple if they are competing. I ignore them and move straight to the wall and claim the ribbon. I won!
The film ribbon that I saw was teased on Instagram and then dropped in a place that was so difficult it took over two hours and extensive Google-searching to find… it will be returning to Orlando with me.
As I walk back to the path my wife is explaining #fafatl to the other couple.
“We were eating over at Krog Street when we figured out the location,” I explain like I’m some local who knows what he’s doing.
But in actuality, in just a short 24-hours, I’ve learned major landmarks around the area thanks to this wonderful hunt for art.
“That’s pretty cool,” the other couple mentions as they keep walking down the path. It is pretty cool, I think, as I open and examine my new prize — not only is the ribbon made of film, it’s actual film strip from the movie Ronin, from the scene the quote on the tag comes from—what a cool piece of unique, free art.
My wife and I head back to the car, smiling triumphantly. We’re excited to add the ribbon to our new #fafatl collection.
Free Art Friday: On The Move?
There isn’t an active Free Art Friday scene here in Orlando, but they’re very well could be. It doesn’t take anything to start it, just some ideas and art hidden in the city. A note on the back directing the victor to post on Instagram when claimed could help spread ideas and exposure. This isn’t hypothetical. My wife and I came back from Atlanta with our own ideas for pieces to create and drop around town. Look out, Orlando, and the hunt will be on soon!