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Heritage at Brentwood residents find tiny artistic touch

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The Heritage at Brentwood unveiled its new Free Little Art Gallery on Oct. 1 in the senior living community’s clubhouse.   

Born from a national trend during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Free Little Art Gallery (FLAG) concept is a place where residents can take a tiny piece of art that speaks to them or add something new to the gallery. FLAGs have popped up across the country in neighborhoods, parks and other spaces.  

What was once a simple forlorn and drab-looking bookshelf in a busy corridor of the clubhouse was transformed into a bright, colorful and imaginative showcase filled with small original pieces of art, free for the taking. There are even little figurines taking in the gallery. 

At the gallery’s unveiling, there were audible gasps then applause in the clubhouse. A private champagne toast for the contributors was held for the artists to celebrate.   

Ellie Cate, a resident at the Heritage, first learned about FLAG when she saw a Washington Post story featuring Seattle artist Stacy Milrany, who founded Seattle’s Little Free Art Gallery. Milrany is recognized as one of the founders of the FLAG movement.  

Cate shared the story with Amy Sheehan, a member of the Heritage’s community life services team who leads art classes and workshops, and asked if they could create a FLAG for the Heritage.  

“It was such a cute idea,” Sheehan said. “Even though in art class we like to think more about the process, we have so many beautiful things coming out of this process. ... We have to have an outlet to give things away, and it’s also an exhibit. And when you’re proud of it, you want someone else to receive it. So why not do this?”  

A core group of resident “artists” — as Sheehan refers to all who participate in the community’s Creative Arts Studio — began creating little art pieces using a variety of mediums. It wasn’t long before more canvases and easels were ordered.  

Cate has experimented and learned from many artists and teachers through the years. While she said she is the master of none, she is grateful for the free classes online and even at the library that have allowed her to explore various forms of art.  

“Right now, I’m most enjoying painted paper collages,” she said. “I’ve always loved looking at and attempting to make art. It’s satisfying to produce something, and just plain fun.”  

Shirley Hansel, another resident at the Heritage, doesn’t refer to herself as an artist, however, she has always enjoyed crafting. She created eight pieces for the FLAG at first and continues to create more.  

“Seeing the pieces disappear gives me a good feeling. To know someone liked and took home my art feels wonderful,” she said. “This was such a good idea for us to create and for others to enjoy the art.”  

Hansel paints with acrylics and said her works are mostly nature related. She tries to make them realistic.  

The FLAG has given residents plenty of joy both creating and sharing art.  

“I believe creating anything is healing,” Sheehan said. “We have been busy expressing our feelings and ideas onto the canvases for months now, growing our skill and confidence, finding joy and realizing when we are busy creating, no matter what mood we enter the room with, we leave better. The FLAG gives us a way to share our joy. It’s a way to offer what we have learned about ourselves to others. It’s been life-giving and has brought life into a lifeless corner of our community. Now, it’s a destination.”  

Since its debut, the Heritage’s FLAG has already evolved. About half of the original pieces exhibited have new owners, and new pieces have replaced them. How often the gallery will turn over has yet to be seen, but with a steady stream of new pieces being created by residents in the arts studio and in their own homes, Sheehan doesn’t fear the gallery will ever be empty.   

To watch a video of Cate and Sheehan discussing the FLAG exhibit, visit the Heritage at Brentwood website or go to

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