Museums have been existence for over five hundred years and have long celebrated art and the creative spirit. They range in size and scale from under 100 square feet to vast museum complexes and are located in all corners of the world.
Enter the Museum of Free Art located at the corner of Mission Street and Montrose Avenue, as one of the smallest museums in the world measuring at 2.26 square feet, and it’s located in South Pasadena.
At the start of the pandemic, Jessika Fairbanks, a film graduate from Art Center College of Design, began to draw and paint as a much-needed outlet to express herself. She was also seeking an activity in which she could share her love of art with her daughter. Out of their weekly “art jam” sessions, they created an art gallery in their home to showcase their art.
Always seeking inspiration, Fairbanks and her daughter have been visiting many of the little libraries in town. It’s a fun activity they enjoy together and “puts into practice the act of sharing and receiving with no strings attached.”
She was inspired to create the Museum of Free Art “to foster community, share/give, and create art.” As Fairbanks puts it, “A museum, where anyone can be an artist on view, where anyone can go home with a piece of art, where anyone can TOUCH and interact with the art as they wish, a special place that is not just mine, but ALL OF OURS, can come to share, receive, and feel. Art for all, by the people, for the people, forever.”
Fairbanks’s husband built the museum from scratch following her design. “His engineering brain made it come to life with added special touches.” On opening day, MOFA received a contribution titled “Boxy Boy” made by a local teenager. As Fairbanks recounts, “It’s never been empty for more than a few hours…in fact it’s usually packed. It’s all I can do to restrain myself from keeping so much of what comes through, but I do.”
The Museum of Free Art has received countless submissions from young and old alike including out-of-town and out-of-state contributions that have been mailed in. Even unhoused members of the community have stopped by to view the changing gallery exhibitions and many people walk away with a smile. Fairbanks is thrilled the community has embraced MOFA and explains, “I hope it continues to spur people to share who they are and get to know others even if only through their creations.”
With her experience working in the film industry and non-profit sector as a guide, Fairbanks’s desire to encourage art to be accessible to all has been established and is thriving. She’s hoping for more youth in the community to participate and has been contacted by a few local educators that they will be bringing student work to be exhibited.
On Fridays, she offers free art supplies to the community, which is sponsored by a local merchant, as a commitment to keep art accessible to all. She’s also pondering another way to engage the community through art prompts and contests. Hopefully, by the end of the year, a special exhibition showcasing her favorite pieces will be on display.
What started out as an opportunity to connect with her neighbors and the community, has turned into something bigger than Fairbanks ever imagined. “It has been a pleasant surprise and joy to see all walks of life contributing and enjoying the museum,” she says, “to just glimpse the smiles that it brings to others, makes my heart sing.”
To see what is exhibited in the museum, you can follow MOFA on Instagram @museum_of_free_art.