Recently, a group of us from Lakota were in St. Cloud, Minnesota, kicking off a Comprehensive Placemaking process. It was an intense, but great, week. We met with a diverse spectrum of people through a range of formal and informal settings. For much of the week we were camped out in a vacant storefront on St. Germain Street, the main street in the downtown. It was only on the last day of our visit that I learned of the existence of the Art-o-mat, located in the lobby of a bank just a block away.
The Art-o-mat is part of a nationwide program that uniquely reuses old cigarette machines as a way of vending small individual art pieces across the country. The machine itself had a beautiful vintage character to it with a wide array of art to choose from. Inside were the work of a couple dozen different artists, but the website boasts 400 contributing artists that have work for sale in the 100-plus machines spread out over the country.
My colleague, Jason, and I quickly started to see how much cash we had in hand to start feeding into the machine. At five bucks a piece, it was a fun way to bring home a unique gift for both of my children and my wife. Jason had the same thought, and we eventually had to zip into the bank itself to break a $20 – a request I am sure they get regularly.
The choices were varied and allowed me to select specific gifts for each of my family members. My son ended up receiving an “Inanimate Pet” (basically a pet rock) in a handmade sweater. I figured for a 4-year-old boy that something with googly eyes that was not too fragile would work well. This was the case, except for the one googly eye that fell off after a few days. The artist, Leticia Miller, encourages new owners of the Inanimate Pets to register them online. We never got around to that, but my son was thrilled nonetheless.
For my daughter I bought an art glass necklace, from the line of Dawn’s Wearable Glass, by and artist named Dawn Petty. My daughter was thrilled.
Finally, for my wife, I selected a painting (created directly on a wooden block the size of a pack of cigarettes) by an artist out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa named Kettle. It had a cartoony aesthetic to it I though my wife would enjoy, and it now resides on her desk at work.
I found the whole experience of the Art-o-mat was so tactile and unique, with a certain kitschy quality that I enjoyed. While I am sure that $5 a piece does not turn a profit for any of the artists, it creates a unique opportunity to gain exposure. In fact, as we are starting up a new project in Cedar Rapids, I plan on looking up Kettle to see if (he/she?) sells larger pieces through a gallery in town.
My only regret was that there was not a notable selection of local artists from St. Cloud represented which would have allowed me to bring home something very unique from my trip. However, as I have been learning through the St. Cloud process, there is a large collection of visual (and other) artists in St. Cloud, and I will have additional chances to bring home something that represents the special character of the City.
To find out more about the Art-o-mat program, visit the Art-o-mat website.