Making a Difference: Bottle cap art

DAYTON — When WHIO Anchor James Brown stopped by to visit with Dayton artist, Bill Cunningham, he was amazed at the thousands of old twist-off beer caps he saw in Cunningham’s art studio. Brown said, “that’s a lot of beer drinking.” Cunningham was quick to reply, “I don’t drink.”

Recently Cunningham paid less than $10 dollars in an online auction to buy all those caps. There were far too many Green Heineken caps to count. However, Cunningham said he had plans for each one of them. Cunningham’s focus is on Folk Art. “A lot of Folk Art is made from found objects, found wood… things most people would never think twice about, other peoples’ trash.”

Cunningham worked to thread a wire through each Heineken bottle cap he had put a hole in and was creating a six-foot-long snake. He was quick to remind Brown, “art is very much alive.” And not just Folk Art.

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Cunningham estimated the Dayton area has hundreds of amateur and professional artists. However, most struggle to get their art noticed. Normally, artists will never copy another’s work. But in this case, Cunningham was happy to steal an artist’s creation in Wisconsin.

It’s called “The Little Free Art Gallery.” This box, with a plexiglass front door is about four feet wide and about five feet long. It hangs outside a building in Dayton’s Front Street Art Community just off East Third street.

With help from a couple other artists, Cunningham built the box. “It allows artists, even professional and amateur to put a piece of work in, and not really know where it goes. All they know is one day it’s there, the next day it’s gone.” Each piece is free to anyone for the taking, “the modo was make art, take art, leave art.” As Brown watched Cunningham fill the Free Art Gallery with new pieces, he said most pieces are worth $20 to $30. But every now and then he said, a couple artists drop off a small piece in worth four to five thousand.” That’s right, $5,000.

2019 was the first year for The Little Art Gallery. “I think it did make a difference. The first year we put it up it did well.” He estimates more than two-thousand pieces of art have come and gone the last three years, and its more popular than ever. “it also gives people access to art that don’t normally have access to art. "

As Brown and Cunningham continued talking, it was clear artists have gotten just as much out of The Little Art Gallery as the community. Over the last three years, a half-dozen other Free Art gallery boxes have popped up around the Miami Valley.

“Everything in here, somebody wants art, they open the door, reach in and take it out, it’s theirs.” And, Cunningham hopes artists hear how this simple idea is Making a Difference, and it inspires them to leave some of their own art in the box for others.