Today my sister told me about a neat idea that she hear about in her journeys…the Art-o-mat. In 1997 Clark Whittington, a North Carolina artist, struck upon the idea of re-using a cigarette vending machine to sell small prints of his photography for $1.00 at an art exhibit of his in a Winston-Salem cafe. After the exhibit, the cafe owner loved the vending machine and wanted to keep it at the cafe (it is still there to this day). Viola, the Art-o-mat was born. The cafe owner introduced Whittington to other local arts and together they created Artists in Cellophane to support the Art-o-mat with artwork.
As of this writing, there are 82 Art-o-mats across the country with around 400 contributing artists from around the world. Need your daily hit of fresh art? Just find your local Art-o-mat, drop in some money, pick a art vendor and pull the knob…out drops art for your daily consumption. The varieties are as diverse as the artists themselves. Sample photography work, beaded jewelry, mixed media work…something for everyone. Sometimes your just go for something that sounds interesting and see what you get. You can always be guaranteed that the your art will be about the size of a pack of cigarettes…a side effect of the Art-o-mat’s legacy.
Luckily I was visiting my sister in Madison, Wisconsin over the holidays when she told me about this. There is an Art-o-mat located in town and we had to go check it out. It was found at a local store called Pop Deluxe. They are a Art and Gift shop where you can find an eclectic mix of a different items…where else would you expect to find a Art-o-mat? It was located upstairs in their loft. Apparently the less than prime location hasn’t hurt business. You need to purchase a $5.00 token from the cashier to feed the Art-0-mat. When my sister went to get her tokens, the clerk made a comment about “we’re running low on tokens again…guess we’ll have to go empty the machine yet again”.
As you can see, the Art-0-mat is not easy to miss. I consider these machines themselves to be works of art. The listing of machine locations from the Art-o-mat website has a photo of each machine…I wasn’t surprised that each one is unique in design. I don’t quite know how to explain how much this idea resonates with me. I love the re-use aspect of the vending machines (regarldess of their original use, still a classic looking device). The fact of making various artists work more accessible to people but in such a unique method–actual bit size samples of their work, not just the flat representations that are available on the web today–is something that I think we will be seeing more of in the future.
Kudos to Clark Whittington for such a great idea and for the perseverance of sharing this with everyone across the country. Help keep this idea growing by visiting (or installing) an Art-o-mat near you!
I have taken on the personal challenge of trying to visit as many of these as I can. As I travel around the country, I will try to stop in at a Art-o-mat near me and document the experience. You can monitor my progress and view photos at my website.