Vending machine art
Seldom has the repurposing of a machine been as powerful as that employed by Art-o-mat. The company takes old cigarette vending machines and converts them into something that disperses something much different: art.
The machines are distributed throughout the country, and stocked with pieces created by local and international artists. The only requirement is that the artwork be the same size as a pack of cigarettes. The machine was created by an artist named Clark Whittington in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1997. There are now approximately 90 Art-o-mats in circulation throughout the United States.
One of the machines found its way to Newport a little over a year ago, and that machine will come to Jamestown soon. Unlike most of the other Art-o-mats, the local machine is used, for the most part, to help nonprofit organizations in the area. Lawn Avenue School art teacher Stephanie Pamula plans to bring it to Jamestown at the end of the school year.
According to Pamula, who has taught art in Jamestown for 15 years, she conceived the idea of bringing the Art-o-mat to Jamestown as a way for her students to interface with local artists. She hopes to help them in that effort by creating a directory of local artists that the students could use as a resource to locate mentors who could assist them in preparing for a career in art.
“There are all these things happening in Jamestown,” Pamula said. “There’s the Conanicut Island Art Association, the Jamestown Arts Center, and the schools. We want to connect all of those things by creating awareness of trying to create this directory. The Art-o-mat became the vehicle for this project because we’re trying to get some area artists interested in creating their own Art-o-mat art.”
The machine, which will hopefully be filled with works created by island residents, will be exhibited at the Jamestown Philomenian Library. It will remain there for approximately two months. For this project to work, Pamula said it will take interested island artists. Anyone who wants to create work for the Art-o-mat can contact her at Pamula.Stephanie@Jamestown Schools.org. They can also call the school at 423-7100 and leave a message for her.
The machine can hold up to 90 pieces of art that are the size of cigarette packs, any of which can be purchased for $5. Lawn Avenue School will retain 80 percent of all income from the machine, and that money will be used to defray the cost of the eighth-grade school trip to Washington, D.C.
Pamula plans to ask each artist – student or professional – to contribute four pieces to the project. The artwork can be in any media, as long as it is the same size as a cigarette pack. For example, it could be a painted block, or a box with a drawing wrapped around it. Jewelry could be placed in boxes of the appropriate size. Some people have even filled thumb drives with digital art and then placed the drives in boxes.
“It should create some curiosity and interest, and hopefully start the process of creating the network that we’re looking for so everybody’s a winner at the end,” Pamula said.
According to Ben Ellcome, who describes himself as the “caretaker” of the Newport Art-o-mat, the machines can be found nationally in venues like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian. There are even 10 machines in casinos in Las Vegas.
There are two Art-o-mat machines in Rhode Island right now. The other one is at Myopic Books in Providence, where it is part of the national program and accepts works from artists all over the world. The smaller Newport machine has been loaned to approximately six local organizations since it arrived in the area, many of them youth-based nonprofits. This will be the first time the machine has come to Jamestown.
“The concept is that the machine is a very easy and digestible project for the kids to take on, where they have to figure out how to organize themselves, create publicity, fund the machine, then they have to come up with artwork that is either beautiful artwork that somebody wants to buy, or it’s artwork that has a social concern that somebody wants to address,” Ellcome said.
According to Ellcome, the students learn about marketing and packaging as they figure out how to get people to come to the machine and buy artwork. “The idea is that it’s this very small, simple project that a classroom or an organization can take on, and every piece of work that they sell they make [money] and that [money] goes directly back into the organization,” he said. “There is a lot of awareness that’s raised through it.”