Art-o-mat in the ‘Cloud

Art-o-matRecently, 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.

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“Inanimate Pet”

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.

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Dawn’s Wearable Glass

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.

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Artwork designed by Kettle from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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.

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Jason Addington, a Lakota landscape designer, picks out an art gift from an Art-o-mat machine in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

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2 comments

  1. What a fun, clever idea! I hope we can steal it here in Athens!

  2. Jennifer P

    Brilliant write up – Thanks Daniel!

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