There’s probably an art vending machine near you. What are you waiting for?

I spend a lot of time in Bisbee, Arizona, a town known for its funky temper and artsy vibe. Some local stores sell bumper stickers that sum up the town perfectly: “It’s like Mayberry on acid.” If you’re ever in southern Arizona, it’s definitely worth stopping by. One of the cool things I found recently in Bisbee is an “art vending machine”. Green Valley News describes the project, which was unveiled a few years ago and is currently located in the Bisbee Convention Center just off the front of the restaurant Bisbee table:

Looking to bring home an original by one of Bisbee’s talented and beloved local artists, but have limited funds or space? Trust the creative city to find an original solution.

The Bisbee Arts Commission recently unveiled its latest project, a vintage cigarette machine repurposed to dispense palm-sized paints, jewelry, fibers and carvings carefully inserted into yellow cigarette cartons.

The project was designed as a way to provide a steady stream of revenue to local artists and the commission, said BAC President Karen Schumacher.

“Half the money goes to us, but the other half goes to the artist,” Schumacher said.

Bisbee has some wonderful local artists, so it was super cool to see the vending machine (it’s called the “CIGART”) and be able to buy a little piece of local art. I was lucky enough to get a piece by artist and longtime Bisbee resident Ken Boe, who also hosts the very cool “Bisbee Poetry Normalization Project”, which helps put art and poetry into random places all over town.

Finding this cool project in Bisbee made me want to learn more about the practice of using old cigarette machines to distribute art and other non-cigarette items. I found an awesome article in Garden and Gun magazine titled “The Southern History of the Art-o-mat” which traces their history to Winston-Salem, NC when artist Clark Whittington created the first Art-o-mat in 1997. Garden and Gun Explain :

Cigarette machines were once found all over the country, but especially in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, home to the RJ Reynolds tobacco empire. But in the 1990s, many were decommissioned and left to rust as the risks of smoking became more apparent – ​​that is, until a local had an idea to reuse them.

Instead of putting packets of cigarettes in a machine, artist Clark Whittington began inserting tiny works of art, into cartons of the same size – starting with his own, then expanding to many more. other artists – and dubbed it the Art-o-mat. He displayed the first machine at a solo art show at a since-closed local cafe called Pennie University, in 1997.

The article goes on to describe how, currently, Art-o-mats can be found in over 200 locations all over the United States, and now also in other countries. This official map keeps track of all machines, but doesn’t capture all similar projects that aren’t officially “Art-o-mats”, like the machine I encountered in Bisbee:

Today, Art-o-mats can be found in over two hundred locations nationwide, in art museums, hotels, bars and galleries (including the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga and the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio) as well as on countless college campuses. A location map on the Art-o-mat website also shows one in Berlin and another in Australia.

Artists, who receive commissions on sales, apply via the website and must provide a certain number of works to meet the demand. The art objects themselves vary wildly, from a printed block to a piece of jewelry to felted creatures. There is a constant need for more art to fill the machines, which are rented out to places that buy the art.

Whether officially “Art-o-mats” or not, these machines that dispense local art are magnificent. I invite you to look at the map and see if there are any in your area, and if so, go check them out and buy some local art! And if there isn’t one near you, hop in your car and head to Bisbee, Arizona to check out his “CIGART” machine. We promise, you won’t be disappointed!

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