With the increase of public smoking bans, the use for cigarette vending machines are at an all time low. However, artist Clark Whittington decided to put these metal boxes to good use after noticing a friend had a Pavlovian experience when hearing cellophane crinkle. Upon hearing the opening of a snack package, they had the uncontrollable urge to purchase one as well. In June of 1997, Whittington set up an art show at a cafe in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, using a banned cigarette machine to create the first Art-o-mat. The machine included his black & white photography, mounted on a block and sold for $1 each. The owner of the cafe loved the idea so much that she asked for his Art-o-mat to become a permanent fixture at the cafe (it was recently dismantled in 2010).
Reynolda House, Winston-Salem NC
Since then, there have been hundreds of Art-o-mats distributed internationally and displaying work by more than 400 artists. With 50% of the $5 price tag going towards the artists, Art-o-mat also functions as international exposure for each artist, with their piece of art distributed among retro-fitted vending machines around the globe. While most of the machines are found in the United States, Whittington also has vendors located in Europe and Australia. The original artwork ranges from handmade, painted blocks to small books, jewelry, and keychains. When customers purchase an original piece from the machine, they never quite know what they’re going to get. Whittington encourages consumers to think of the art as something to collect and exchange with friends. Artists in Cellophane, the sponsoring organization of Art-o-mat, inspires “art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form”, and what better way to achieve this than by using outdated cigarette vending machines?
Art-o-mat is always interested in in submissions from new artists and they welcome art pieces at any time. They do have strict policies in terms of size and structure for submitted art pieces, so be sure to take a look at their guidelines before submitting work. If you’re interested in visiting Art-o-mat locations near you, take a look at where Art-o-mat vendors are found here. You can keep updated with Art-o-mat on their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Trish Connelly is the Austin-based guru who does booking and promoting at Cheer Up Charlies under The Nothing Song. She’s always down to collaborate and plan a show or event in town. She’s an expert with mixtapes (for all musicians out there you’ll want to send her your stuff!), and making connections with the cool kids. She may have a tad obsession with comics and Corgies, but she keeps it under control. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.