Why should art collecting be only for the rich? Behold: the Art-o-Mat.
Think “reconstituted cigarette vending machine,” but instead of dispensing smoke for the lungs, the Art-o-Mat furnishes food for the soul.
Artist Clark Whittington's inspiration for the Art-o-Mat was a friend's Pavlovian response to crinkling cellophane; the sound made him want to buy a snack.
Whittington reconfigured a retired cigarette machine to sell his black-and-white photos for a dollar apiece at the then Penny Universitie café in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“I had no idea that it would last beyond the month the original machine was on display in 1997,” admits Whittington. “But as the project grew legs, and as artists/hosts signed on, it went from a 'me' to a 'we.'”
Today, there are Art-o-Mats in 30 states, Canada, and Austria offering works by hundreds of artists. In late January, Maryland got its first machine—at the Saville Gallery in Cumberland. Whittington will train local artists on creating for the Art-o-Mat.
“For the first round of artwork in our machine,” says Andy Vick, president of the Allegany Arts Council, “we’ve invited AAC board members and staff to pick their favorite artists from the Art-o-Mat website. As local artists get involved in the program, we’ll incorporate their artwork into the mix that is available for sale.”
Art-o-Mat artist Jodi Hoover of Lutherville can barely meet demand. “I do it because I believe in the project and I like the challenge,” explains the Baltimore County artist. “I like trying to figure out how I can make something special that fits the parameters of the project.” (Although Jodi’s work is available in other Art-o-Mats, the only Free State artist currently represented in Cumberland’s machine is Georgina Bathlander.)
“Our goal,” says Whittington, “is for Art-o-Mat to be a part of the community, while giving artists an opportunity to have their work exposed to a broad audience in venues they would not have access to otherwise.”
For more information about Cumberland’s new Art-o-Mat machine, visit www.alleganyartscouncil.org.