The Free Pass Project

Think about your day, and even the last few hours. Has there been a moment where you’ve given yourself a hard time or been in a frustration? Have you interacted with a loved one or stranger who is stressed, is doing the best they can, feels disengaged from forgiveness or needs simple affirmative respite of some kind? Need a free pass…?

Who needs a free pass now and again?
Almost everyone.

As an inclusive social engagement platform, the Free Pass Project unifies and empowers individuals and communities with creative and energetic acts of spontaneous compassion and conversation. In these divisive and wearing times an observation as simple as, ‘it looks like you’re having a bad day’, can go a long way towards connection. I have great gratitude to the hundreds of people who have been involved in some manner since the start of the Free Pass Project . Thanks to citizen artists like you, the compassion in free pass exchanges incrementally makes the world a smaller and better place. If you’re just learning about this long term, social practice, thanks for stopping by and read on…

The What:

Version 1.0 of the Free Pass Project centered on hand crafted free pass tokens from re-purposed vintage poker chips as the means to share acknowledgement and expression of spontaneous compassion. The chips were stage one, and the center of this lively, people powered, pro social platform. Citizen artists, such as yourself, gave free pass tokens to friends and strangers, kept one for a jolt of self compassion or dropped them randomly as a surprise gift to strangers. Folks have deemed the term/gesture, ‘free passing’. Any mix of these creative options eases distress and brightens the day for at least two people: you and a free pass recipient.

Those stories are uploaded by folks who have participated in this art project. Sharing our stories is one way to nurture, nourish and extend this Free Pass Project community. Some stories so far:

*Version 2.0* of the Free Pass Project is getting its footing with a pivot towards being able to have free pass interactions virtually, and also to center the project in “peership” with artist and communities. During the extensive “lockdown”  with  extreme social distancing, from March 2020 to a recent peak in 2022, people were unable to be close to strangers – physically offer and hand a free pass token. Being able to extend similar grace in a virtual manner will fortify our options!

The Why:

It is science that one instance of compassionate behavior compels the next person to do the same. This is the micro level of the Free Pass Project that helps change the world. A simple conversation that might start with, ‘it looks like you’re having a bad day’, crosses many social and political barriers – i.e. we’ve all been there. Creatively bestowing a free pass token, or adventurous app check in, is a small respite from struggle and builds a simple bridge with, ‘I’ve been there too’.

The Who:

I’m Rachel Cyrene Blackman, a multi disciplinary artist. I originated this long term, interactive, pro social art of the Free Pass Project in January, 2014. A tremendous amount of background work supports the surprising simplicity and clarity of the project’s foundational purpose. Collaborations, research, writing, improving materials, making free pass tokens, digital media…and love…keep the Project going. Here’s a short clip that introduces some of my own free passing at the start of the project. After a conversation with a stranger, you are no longer strangers.

These short articles introduced the FPP V 1.0 as it was in year one. Wow.

Providence Monthly
Motif Magazine

The full Free Pass Project Website and Instagram are where to get in on this art.

The core of Free Pass Project art is the opportunity for you to engage in spontaneous compassion one to another via ‘Free Pass tokens’. The art object of a re-purposed poker chip being crafted into a ‘free pass’ is an accessible ‘currency’ to mindfully and creatively express compassion. This object is a prompt to notice the people and world around you. There is a small risk in reaching out. The reward of a compassionate observation, behavior and acknowledgement can shift your mood, and those around you, generating energy and ultimately impacting well being.

Those times when you allow a car to merge in front of you in traffic, frequently that driver will then do the same. That positive behavior is a default in our chemistry that often gets squelched, overlooked or is just hard to maneuver. The Free Pass Project is a way to creatively engage for all of us to, in a given moment, be our best self. This is your art.

My FPP Art

Some days when I’m stressed and too far from being in this art, I go out and ‘free pass’ with a few strangers for a little while. It grounds me in the purpose of all the background, functional workings of this project. The outcome from a free pass interaction, no matter what happens, is like a wake up cup of coffee. To date I’ve probably interacted with over 160 folks around New England, and only twice has someone held up their hands, not made eye contact, and moved along. With each interaction a layer of ‘stranger-ness’ sheds pretty quickly. A deep thing about the Project is challenging participants/collaborators….myself, to take a risk and interact with someone different from you. The reward of the risk is often a vitamin for the soul.

This full cycle free pass story is very memorable. Toll booth workers are often ignored, and literally passed by, as they do their work. Some of my favorite ‘free pass-ing’ was with tollbooth workers. A simple query about harried, stressed out drivers of that day, and I offer a free pass token to the worker. We chat about how hard patience with harried, stressed people is-that the free pass could be kept in hand as a ‘doing the best I can reminder’ or perhaps handed to that harried, stressed person. A super highlight of the project so far was starting to chat with a guy and he already had a free pass token-“oh, you gave it to me a few months ago!” I asked him what he’d done with it – he gave it to a diver short on change. Having the experience, and now the memory, of our random, short, delightful interaction is this Project. Three strangers were delighted in four interactions with one object passed along. Four memories were made. Four stories created about someone we did not know.

The most profound and unexpected thing was doing a project, within the project. There is a third rail included in the coordination, and ‘free passing’, I started in on very personal work. There was a Hansel and Gretel trail of small traumas/tough things/unfinished business I had-as do most people. I’ve been to many locations, private and public, where random things took place-spent some reflective time there-and left a free pass token to forgive/release myself, or a person associated. This object-the interactions – have gone deeper than I could have without the prompt/buffer.

One stop on my ‘free pass tour’ I took photos, audio and a video clip at what was for me a high intensity location. It was a remarkable stop free pass-ing. I left tokens for myself and offered free pass tokens to the construction workers on site. One of them blew my mind when his defenses sort of fell away as he accepted the token, put it over his heart, and said, ‘this is where, I need it.’

Good Words

Experience the Free Pass Project!

What is this art about?

The Free Pass Project is an interactive, person to person, way to socially engage with active and spontaneous compassion. In Version 1, in giving, receiving, finding or leaving a project based Free Pass token, you communicate understanding, compassion, temporary respite or resolution for yourself, someone you know, or a complete stranger. In then sharing the social story of your Free Pass conversation (via the website and IG tag) we may come to find a community narrative on the sort of stresses and generosity we share. We can also learn about unique challenges for people and keep learning.

Many, many, Free Pass stories are not documented. People have kept Free Passes, or choose not to publicly share the meaning and exchange of a Free Pass token. That is perfect, too.

Why would I engage in this art?

Active compassion builds healthy communities. (Trust me!) A Free Pass token or virtual prompt, are simply ways to spark the opportunity to communicate about a small shared experience. These connections of understanding are small moments that over the long term build a positive community.

For example, if you’re in line at the store texting or chatting that you forgot to get apples, you are missing out on a moment to notice the people around you, and how they’re doing. There might be a stressed out parent with a tired toddler, or a cashier who just dealt with a crabby customer, or you yourself might have some small foible. Step out of your comfort zone, and hand them a Free Pass.

Even randomly dropping a Free Pass token in a shop, or on the street, makes two people feel better. You’ve engaged in a small adventure and something out of the ordinary in your day. The same will be true for the person who finds it. The smallest event can distract someone from a worry.

**Free Pass tokens are currently in small batches. They are art objects with hands on fabricating each and every one. (1,800 to date!)**

How do I go about this?

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to free pass. Be brave. Trust the reward of gesture and conversation that might feel like a social risk. (You don’t even need a Free Pas token to reach out and share the story of your spontaneous compassion conversation with the project!)

In my own random ‘free passing’ of approximately 200+ strangers only two people have absolutely shown no interest. Others don’t ‘get’ the concept, but still say, “thank you” for the Free Pass token, some people just have curiosity and wander away, and others lock right in and simply beam.

Frequently a free pass opportunity just starts with a simple question, or statement, and you take it from there. Most people recognize a spontaneous compassion conversation as an opportunity for grace and respite. You might be able to say, and offer, an actual object, or app exchange, as a free pass! The creative scorecard and feedback to date is 90% positive in that two people have been ‘seen’/acknowledged through this creative engagement.

Other people, early in the project, kept a free pass token or two in their pocket. When a situation arose they handed over a free pass token on the fly. This happened with a distracted waiter, in gratitude to a friend for support, and in a boyfriend dispute to set aside until later. Some folks have kept Free Pass tokens in their pocket or on a desk for their own personal reminder they are doing the best they can.

You can also contact me through the page with any question or comment about the Free Pass Project.

Some stories to date are at

What is up with Free Pass tokens?

Free Pass tokens are handmade/assembled as part of the art, and goodwill of this art. Each one is slightly unique as a little, funky, treasure to share and pass from one person to the next. The base object is a repurposed, vintage, poker chip. Paper is applied with a water soluble adhesive, and an outer coating for longevity as tokens are in circulation. They hold up for a few years.  Free Pass tokens do not harm the environment – reusing plastic is a good thing.

**Free Pass tokens are currently in small batches. They are art objects with hands on fabricating each and every one. (1,800 to date!)**

Where do I get Free Pass tokens?

At this time, contact me directly about Free Pass tokens and information on how the project is moving forward (2022).

The original Facebook page is still worth a glance for early photos, stories and the early history of the project.

To date, over 1,800 tokens have been crafted and sent to over 30 states and five countries since launching the first live draft of the Art in January 2014.

**Free Pass tokens are currently in small batches being that they are art objects with hands on fabricating each and every one.  Plus FPP V 2.0 will be a surprise for us all. What’s in store besides hand crafted tokens?!**

Why is the Free Pass Project called a project?

The original, and still true, reason is that all of us are collaborators on this creative, community, adventure. It is an active and fluid, long term, social practice platform. For folks who are participating, it is your art project – you are citizen artists! Also, there are many avenues and ways to collaborate, now, and in the future.

Blues Concert Free Pass Video

Ball Game Free Pass Video

Where did the Free Pass Project start?

I am the originator and lead artist, and I’m based in New England. The entire idea of this as a community art project, and the first draft of the full project happened in about a week in January of 2014. During the early part of that year hundreds and hundreds of Free Pass tokens were sent out to ‘free pass ambassadors’ around the country to get started in their communities.

As the lead artist I am still very involved as an active participant: small batches of  Free Pass tokens assembled, distributing them, participating as a ‘free passer’, and the long term build of social media participation. I’m also working towards collaborations with community organizations, other artists, scientists and educators.

I hope you have fun, and keep in touch.

Be an artist. Change the world.