There's no need to trek into the big city to see creative and compelling art.

Tri-Valley cities are teeming with free public art galleries chock-full of work created by talented local artists. The key is knowing where to look.

"We have so much art," Nicole Blazin, a San Ramon spokeswoman, said. "We have three galleries. The Lindsay Dirkx Brown gallery was the first one, but we also have gallery spaces at the Dougherty Station Community Center and the San Ramon Library."

San Ramon, like most local cities, has public art galleries in structures typically built for another purpose, such as a community center, theater or library.

"The theory is that as people experience and use the buildings, they're able to experience the gallery spaces," Blazin explained. "What's unique about our gallery spaces is they're really representative of the local community. They each bring a different setting to experience the art. They're an opportunity for the community to engage in art while they're going about their everyday activities. That's the goal of our galleries."

Danville's Village Theatre underwent a major renovation in 2009 that includes a special gallery space for art.

"It enhances the experience for the patron who's coming to the theater," Amy Miller, Danville's visual art coordinator, said. "A lot of people enjoy looking at the exhibitions. We showcase regional artists, but we do have one exhibition each year that's open to the entire United States."

The Village Theatre Art Gallery recently showcased the work of student and teacher artists in San Ramon Valley schools. Next up is a unique blend of art from various cultures, followed by an exhibit about humor to pair with the comedic Reel Blondes stage show that will play at the theater.

"We're honing in on our program and making it try to connect," Miller said of art exhibits that complement stage shows. The student artwork was displayed while hundreds of school children came to the theater to see the Little Mermaid.

"We had hundreds of children coming through the lobby looking at children's art," she said.

Livermore is unique in that its sole public art gallery is operated by the Livermore Art Association and not the city.

"It is an opportunity that's really close by where people can come in and see work by really good local artists," Bill Hackett, the association's president, said of the gallery in the old Carnegie library building. "Their work has to be juried into the gallery. Not everybody's work is deemed suitable to be in the gallery."

The Livermore gallery also features a gift shop with items that extend beyond paintings and sculptures, Hackett said. Local artists create jewelry, custom pens, scarves, accessories and much more for sale.

"It's all unique, handmade art by local artists," Hackett said. "We normally do a pretty brisk business (around the holidays) because I don't know where else you can find items like that."

In fact, the art displayed at most public galleries is for sale, the various curators noted.

"We get a lot of interior designers who come through," Miller said of the Danville gallery.

The Livermore Art Association works with the city to display art at the Bankhead Theater, Robert Livermore Community Center and the Civic Center library.

"Sadly, there's not one big public art gallery in Livermore," Hackett, a professional photographer, said. "It's something we think the town needs."

Dublin does not have any public art galleries. Pleasanton got its first-ever public art gallery in 2010 when a former downtown fire station was converted into the Firehouse Arts Center, including the Harrington Art Gallery. The gallery is named for Gary and Nancy Harrington, local art patrons who've donated numerous works of art to the city.

"It's extremely important," Julie Finegan, the city's visual arts coordinator, said of having a public gallery. "There are a lot of artists and a lot of interest in the arts. We have wonderful sports programs and a good retail area, but visual arts is really something we needed."

"The neat thing about my job is that I can really encourage a lot of artists," she added. "We're bringing in new art for people to see. We're really supporting the visual arts in the greater Bay Area."

In addition to the 2,000-square foot, two-room Harrington gallery, the arts center features art in four smaller exhibit spaces throughout the building -- the lobby, two hallways and an alcove.

"It's so nice that somebody can go downtown for lunch and then come over here to see a gallery," Finegan said. "We definitely wanted something where we could have really good quality shows in a small setting that's really inviting. It also extends our downtown to more than just a street. Besides, who wants to always drive to San Francisco?"

Art at various venues "creates an environment that's rich with culture," Kathi Heimann, San Ramon's art program manager, said. "Art is really important. It inspires people. It's fun when you're at the community center and you see people stopping to ponder the art. It may be people who otherwise might never enter a gallery, but here it is in their community center."

Most cities rotate their art exhibits monthly, while some exhibits may linger for a few weeks. The idea is to keep it fresh and interesting.

"In this day and age when everything costs so much money, this is a great free thing to do," Heimann said. "On the way to one place or another, you can stop in and see some art. It's a great little treasure box every month. You never know what you're going to get."

FINE ART CLOSE TO HOME
Here is a list of some of the San Ramon and Tri-Valley's free public art galleries:
Danville:
Village Theatre Art Gallery, 233 Front St., 925-314-3460
Hours: Wednesday through Friday noon to 5 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closed Sunday. By appointment Monday and Tuesday. Gallery open one hour before all theater performances
http://www.ci.danville.ca.us/Enjoy_Danville/Art_and_Culture/Village_Theatre_Art_Gallery
Livermore:
Livermore Art Association Gallery, 2155 Third St., 925-449-9927
Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
http://www.livermoreartassociation.org/index.html

Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., 925-373-6800
Open one hour before, during and after performances
http://www.mylvpac.com/

Robert Livermore Community Center, 4444 East Ave., 925-373-5700
Hours: Monday-Thursday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Open evenings and weekends for special events and classes
http://www.larpd.dst.ca.us/rentals/rlcc.html

Civic Center Library, 1188 S. Livermore Ave., 925-373-5505
Hours: Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday Noon to 6 p.m.
http://www.cityoflivermore.net/citygov/lib/about/hours/loc/civic.asp
Pleasanton:
Harrington Art Gallery, 4444 Railroad Ave., 925-931-4850
Hours: Wednesday-Friday Noon to 5 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
http://www.firehousearts.org/harrington-gallery
San Ramon:
Lindsay Dirkx Brown Gallery at San Ramon Community Center, 12501 Alcosta Blvd., 925-973-3200
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Open evenings and weekends when facility is being used.

Dougherty Station Community Center, 17011 Bollinger Canyon Road, 925-973-3200
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Open evenings and weekends when facility is being used.

San Ramon Library, 100 Montgomery St., 925-973-2850
Hours: Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
http://ccclib.org/locations/sanramon.html