Ypsi-area "Take Art Leave Art" box brings neighbors together safely during pandemic

A new "Take Art Leave Art" (TALA) box is providing ways for Ypsilanti-area neighbors to connect with each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Creator Shawn Bungo modeled the box, located at 4547 Hickory Pointe Blvd. in Pittsfield Township, after the concept behind Little Free Libraries. But instead of books, the box features small pieces of art, from children's drawings to Bungo's glass sculptures. Bungo has publicized the box in the Ypsilanti Area Discussion Facebook group, and people from across the area have come to take and leave art.

"We moved up here about one and a half years ago and didn't have a lot of time before the pandemic hit to connect with the community," Bungo says. "This has been a perfect thing during the pandemic, allowing us to connect with people and still be socially distanced."

Bungo and his wife lived in Knoxville, Tenn. before moving to Michigan in 2019. Bungo first had the idea of the TALA exchange while living in Knoxville, and created his first TALA box there.

Bungo says the TALA in Knoxville and the current one near his home evolved from a concept that was more like a treasure hunt. He is a glass artist and he says typically only two out of 10 pieces he made were worth keeping.

"I would walk my dogs in the old Knoxville neighborhood and would hide my odds and ends in trees and other places for years," Bungo says. "The neighbors would walk their dogs and find them. Over the years, there was one neighbor who found literally hundreds of them."

Eventually, the idea morphed into its current form when a box Bungo installed outside his Knoxville studio attracted many other area art lovers over the course of five years.

Bungo also hid a dozen or more of his pieces around downtown Ypsilanti over the course of many Saturdays before creating the local TALA box. He says his current TALA box is also proving to be "pretty popular."

"It inspires people who aren't normally creative to make things, and young people love it," he says. 

Bungo says area residents have left work in many different media, from pottery to micro paintings to 3D pieces made from found items to hand-painted eggshells.

Bungo wanted to feature some of the more clever pieces that ended up in the box, so he's also created a "microgallery" on the box with a rotating "art show."

In addition to sharing the joy of art-making, the TALA box and gallery have been a way to create community connections during a time when people are going out less and staying in more. For instance, Bungo says he might never have known that a woman who lives on his corner creates pottery if not for the TALA box. Another neighbor made art inspired by Bungo's dogs.

"One of my favorite pieces was a little micro-painting of my dog," Bungo says. "A neighbor got a photo of one of my dogs from social media and made me a painting of a Border Collie wearing a pair of sunglasses."

Bungo says that is one of the few pieces left in the box that he intends to keep for himself.

Photos of other contributions to the TALA box are available on Bungo's Facebook page for his art, Bungo Glass.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of Shawn Bungo.