I stand in front of the Art-o-mat at Ivywild School, surveying the tiny artwork for sale from this vending machine for only $5 each. Do I want earrings, a comic, a mysteriously named “treasure necklace,” or something else from among the 22 options? I pick a linocut print by artist Mona Wu, feed a $5 bill into the machine, and pull on the plastic knob. To my delight, out comes a wooden block with a print of watermelon slices. After examining my newest acquisition, my friend Ann Varevice remarks, “Oh, that’s a vending machine for things that you actually want!”
The Art-o-mat is a retired cigarette vending machine reimagined to vend unique artwork. It is the creation of artist Clark Whittington and the artists in Cellophane Group. The local machine, entitled Carnival, is one of over 100 around the world. Adorned with circus performers and stars, it invites buyers to “Step Right Up.” Whittington created the first Art-o-mat in 1997 to vend small prints of his photographs for a solo show in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Today, around 300 artists around the world contribute their work to the machines.
“In addition to being a fun way to share handmade artwork with new audiences, having an Art-o-mat machine in our community enables us all to be part of a nationwide project that is inspiring creativity and growing awareness for the arts,” says Andy Vick, executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, which sponsors and hosts the local Art-o-mat.
I’m holding onto my linocut, but the miniature pieces would make excellent stocking stuffers or gifts any time of year for the art-geek in your life.