Imagine you’ve just endured a long, arduous week at work; it’s Friday morning and you’re running late. You tackle the tube crowds, suffer the grumbles of the quintessential London commuter and in an attempt to placate yourself, you swing into a café in search of a decent caffeine hit to get you through the day. While you’re feverishly waiting for that liquid gold, you notice a small gift box on the empty table next to you, with blue bubble writing that reads “This Must Be For You.”
Curiosity getting the better of you, you grab it and upon opening, a quirky little gift falls out with an accompanying note reading, “This gift is for you, we want to brighten up your day! Reuse this box for someone else.” Confused, yet humbled, you wonder what kind of benevolent soul could have gone out of their way to completely brighten what was shaping up to be a very tedious day. Well, my fellow East Londoners, that benevolent soul is Tash Cutts, founder of anonymous gift giving project This Must Be For You and thanks to her, London’s cafes, parks, stores and more are constantly dotted with little gifts not only to brighten your day, but to give local artists, writers, videographers, photographers and musicians a different way to showcase their work.
“TMBFY is a gift-giving project that has been running for about 4 years,” said Tash. “We leave gifts around London (and beyond!) to randomly make people happy – at the moment you should keep an eye out for some great French vintage pin badges. We have also used our boxes to gift work by some amazing artists, and this year we are running a series of exhibitions where all the art on display can be taken home for free.”
These themed exhibitions in East London bring together artists of various mediums with the aim of promoting local creatives and human kindness alike. Most exhibitions see that those in attendance can either win some art or just take it home for free. The idea for TMBFY was inspired by a Guerilla Gardening Campaign and quickly evolved from there. “When I was at University in York someone started a Guerilla Gardening campaign – our campus was really bleak, and they went out at night and covered it in plants. I loved that a small anonymous gesture could have such a positive impact. After buying 100 small flat packs boxes I filled them with plastic toy soldiers and hid them around the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The basic idea has remained the same since then, but the gifts have definitely got better.”
I first came across TMBFY when a friend took me to one of Tash’s exhibitions in Shoreditch. I was blown away by the sheer talent on display, and even more so that these talented artists were happy to give their art away for free. I was lucky enough to win a piece (a set of three amazing portraits, delicately drawn with oil pastels onto pressed autumn leaves) and got talking to Tash when I went back to collect it. “I always put out an open call for artists via our socials, and then contact a few that I am a fan of myself. I feel very honoured when people want to take part, and I am really lucky to have worked with some great artists.”
“We have a new exhibition coming up with a record label where we will be asking people to illustrate 12” vinyl covers, so if anyone is interested please get in touch!” Tash’s passion for the project is infectious and her unwavering drive to unearth and promote London’s creative talent is a force to be reckoned with. Her dedication to promoting human kindness in such a unique way benefits so many Londoners on a weekly basis – I wondered if they ever got in touch to thank her? “It is pretty great when someone messages to say they have found a TMBFY box,” said Tash. “Occasionally people are inspired to start doing something similar which is awesome, but we are just happy to know that they have gone to a good home.”
When Tash isn’t sneaking little boxes of happiness around London, she’s heavily involved in London’s music scene: “Alongside TMBFY I work in music, which gives me the opportunity to meet some super talented individuals. The exhibitions we put on showcase a mixture of art and live music, and my job puts me in a good position to find some great new bands to play. At the last show we had sets from FISH, Her’s and Free Money, so that was awesome.” Having taken her project from strength to strength, I asked Tash if she had any advice for budding social entrepreneurs. “Keep it up – you might not get any positive feedback for ages, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. And always listen to the feedback when you do get it – a social project is outward looking so make sure you stay on board with what people think.”
And as for the future of TMBFY, I had to know. “On a basic level I hope that we can continue leaving out interesting gifts that people would be happy to find,” said Tash. “But I would also love to expand on the temporary exhibitions side of things – big free events where people can come down and pick up some free art and listen to some great new music. I’m definitely still learning, but I’m always looking forward to putting on the next one.” For more information or if you’re an artist who’s keen to collaborate, check them out on Facebook.
Words and images by Skye Vadas