Art-o-mat dispenses art to the people
Clark Whittington is inviting the world to be a part of the growing Art-o-mat family of artists, hosts and collectors, with over 170 machines across the United States as well as Canada, Australia and Austria. You can track the locations with an online map, so you are “never artless” in your travels, but you don’t have to leave the Triad to find an Art-o-mat machine. Whittington’s concept of encouraging more art consumption while reaching audiences that artists may have never accessed is keeping old vending machines out of the landfill and repurposing them into art dispensing machines where people can buy art on their own terms for $5.
Local Art-o-mats can be found in Greensboro at Revolution Mill and in its hometown of Winston-Salem at the Southeastern Center of Contemporary Art, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Foothill’s Brewing Tasting Room, Mary’s Gourmet Diner, A/perture Cinema, Salem Fine Arts Center, Artwork’s Gallery, Krankies Coffee, Earl’s, Jugheads Growlers & Pints, Wake Forest University, Wherehouse Art Hotel, The Olio Glasshouse, St. Paul’s Episcopal, and the Benton Convention Center. From locations in Walnut Cove, Durham, Cary, Boone and beyond North Carolina, Art-o-mats are on the move.
Whittington, an artist and native of Concord, owned Rococo Fish Gallery in the Charlotte’s NoDa (North Davidson) Arts District in the late ‘80s before he moved to Winston-Salem. He said his art comes to him from his experiences and ideas. One day, he observed a friend’s Pavlovian reaction to seek a vending machine upon hearing the crinkling of a cellophane snack wrapper, he sketched out his first Art-o-mat machine, a piece of art itself created from retired cigarette vending machines.
In 1997, he transformed his first old cigarette machine into a functional piece of art to dispense his black and white peel-a-part Polaroids and later invited other artists to be involved creating “Artists in Cellophane” for his conceptual work that included an Art-o-mat.
“I love how artists take this format and make it their own,” he said. “I enjoy seeing people come up with great ideas and getting them into an Art-o-mat and keeping their art alive. When artists and buyers connect through an Art-o-mat, it’s tangible, it’s real, and it’s something people can take with them and enjoy.”
Whittington said he was working as a graphic designer in a creative job to pay the bills up until 2003, but he didn’t let his job interfere with his personal art. He graduated top of his class from Appalachian State University in graphic design and later went for his Master’s at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Even though he was making good grades, he got restless after a year and got married before going out on his own as a DIY artist.
When his Seed Gallery disbanded in 2011, he began focusing solely on Art-o-mats. Once he was in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, he went full-time. Whittington said he feels honored that one of his ideas has gained traction.
“Most people don’t understand that I’m an artist; they think I’m a vendor. I’m okay with being under the radar. I want to share this with people and artists, and I don’t mind taking a back seat.”
Art for these dispensers ranges from drawings, photos, paintings, jewelry, crafts and more as long as they fit into the 3¼ by 2 1/8 by 7/8-inch boxes and follow very specific guidelines.
Whittington said that the art is selected based on effort, craftsmanship, and originality with careful consideration as to how the final piece will be viewed in the hands of someone who may have never bought art before. Whittington considers each artist’s involvement as a long-term relationship, meaning they may send work on an ongoing basis. They can create their own boxes/blocks or purchase them online. He also provides promotional support to the artists and venue hosts.
Artists include Liz Morris, Janie Reavis-Cox, Pat Cooper, Valerie Hibbard, Dewitt Young, Allison Stoner, Sarah Whittington, Crystal Miyake, Dawn Petty, and many more may be viewed on the website.
Whittington said the talent is inspiring to other artists and gaining popularity to collectors who don’t take their art collecting too seriously.
Interested Art-o-mat hosts can apply to firstname.lastname@example.org with the venue, location, and a brief explanation of how your mission will be a match for dispensing art as outreach in your community.
Whittington said he likes to stay true to concept as he has learned that when people try to alter it, it fails.
“Once an Art-o-mat is designed, installed and loaded with art, it just works on its own,” he said.
TERRY RADER is a freelance writer, poet, singer/songwriter, wellness herbalist, flower essences practitioner and owner of Paws n’ Peace o’ Mind cat/dog/house sitting.