Drive through any number of Durango neighborhoods and you’re likely to come across a Free Little Library: A free-standing, wooden box, sometimes decorated, that contains books you are welcome to take – and you are able to leave ones you’ve already read.
Now, along with the libraries, you can also check out a Free Little Art Gallery, courtesy of artist/photographer Deborah Sussex, who just very recently opened a gallery at the end of her driveway.
Along with being an artist, Sussex, who moved to Durango with her husband, Michael Dietzman, in 2012 from Minnesota, is also a certified creativity coach and a certified teacher with the Mindful Life Program – it’s a program where she teaches mindfulness and meditation to adults so they can learn to live more mindfully in whatever capacity they exist in. It’s through this work that she got the idea to create the gallery.
“The Free Little Art Gallery that I launched I titled it ‘The Giving Circle,’ and that was really inspired by, through my mindfulness practice and my teaching, I was really inspired with the concept of giving and receiving, and motivated by the virtuous cycle of giving and receiving and how that inspires generosity and how it fosters gratitude,” she said. “It really is an opportunity to experience gratitude; gratitude is a mindfulness practice and it opens us up, at least there’s that potential, to joy and compassion and appreciation of the life that sustains us.”
For more information about Deborah Sussex’s Free Little Art Gallery, visit https://bit.ly/3q3YS24.
The Giving Circle works just like a Little Free Library, Sussex said. Her gallery is at the end of her driveway just out of town in the Turtle Lake Valley. She said there’s a spot where drivers and cyclists can safely pull off the road.
“The Free Little Art Gallery is open all the time. There’s one door; it’s always open. You can come any time of day and it’s a really nice little intimate space of intrigue,” Sussex said. “You can come and do a few things: You can enjoy the installation that’s currently in there; you can feel free to contribute or give some of your creative work; you can feel free to receive, or take, I like to call it ‘receiving’; and you can do both. You can do all three. There is that option for everybody. Anyone is welcome. Anyone of any age is welcome to contribute their creative works.”
Sussex said the only time the gallery’s door would be locked is if she decides to set up a permanent little installation that is up for a few weeks. “But for the most part, it’s going to be open and in that space of giving and receiving, that’s the point.”
The gallery was officially opened Halloween weekend, and a lot of credit goes to Dietzman, a professional builder who built the gallery for Sussex for her 60th birthday. She said he was the one who brought to her attention an article about other free galleries and the two set about hatching a plan to make their own.
And so far, the response has been good, Sussex said.
“It’s really fun for me as the curator of this little gallery. I walk out to my driveway each day and take a peek and go, ‘Ooooh! What’s been added?’ or ‘What has found a new home? How wonderful that somebody chose that piece.’ Several things have come and gone,” she said.
When it comes to leaving work at the gallery, people shouldn’t feel limited by subject matter – or even geography, Sussex said, adding that she accepts pieces from anywhere (check out her website for mailing information). It’s also great when artists sign the backs of their pieces, she said.
“Even if you don’t live here and you’re not in a position at least in the moment, to come to the Giving Circle in person, you can still experience that sense of generosity and gratitude through sending something to me and I’ll put it in the gallery on your behalf,” she said. “I’ve had many people send me pieces from all over the place – and people I don’t even know. This is a movement that is flourishing and I have an Instagram page for the Free Little Art Gallery in Durango and as a result, people are finding out about it and other Free Little Art Galleries around the country and world are finding out about it and there’s some sharing going on there.”
Along with the spirit of giving and receiving, Sussex also wants to inspire a spirit of accessibility in The Giving Circle.
“This is really a space that I want to have be accessible to everybody who wants to express creativity. And I think it’s important to note that sometimes people get locked into thinking that galleries are only for ‘real’ artists or professional artists,” she said. “I’ve owned a gallery, I’ve worked in galleries, I’ve sold other artists’ work, I have found it incredibly rewarding to do that work, so at the same time, this little gallery is a little more accessible to everybody and I love that idea.
“You’re only limited by your imagination; there can be just a multitude of types of media that can be brought in. I was talking to a young friend of mine who is a physics student and I said, ‘You know what? I’ve always loved math and physics equations on the chalkboard. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful piece to put on a piece of watercolor paper or something? And you just scribble out an equation or whatever. That’s like a work of art in and of itself,” Sussex said. “We can be in so many directions with our creative pursuits.”