Art & Design Magazine

Kerplunking Culture: Art-o-Mat Swap Meet

By Americanart

Different Art-O-Mat vending machines

Repurposed vending machines produced by Artists in Cellophane

I have a confession. I like vending machines a little too much. The convenience, the multitude of options, the opportunity to empty out my change purse—what's not to love?

Artist Clark Whittington from North Carolina has come up with a vending machine that may be the best one I've seen yet. It's certainly the most figure-friendly. Instead of stocking the machines with chips, candy, and soda, Whittington and the aptly-named Artists in Cellophane group create cigarette package-sized artworks to be installed in and sold from repurposed cigarette vending machines (remember those?). Called Art-o-mats ("arto" for short), these machines help make art more accessible to everyone—you can buy your own artwork for a mere $5. It should be said, too, that even the machines themselves are works of art! Loyal readers of Eye Level may remember the Luce Foundation Center's excitement just about two years ago when we received our machine. It has become a fixture on the third floor and a favorite among our visitors.

On Saturday, July 28, the American Art Museum will host Artists in Cellophane and the Art-o-mat Swap Meets. This program celebrates the 15th Anniversary of Artists in Cellophane. Around 30 participating artists will be on hand to provide short demos of their work and mingle with you, fellow Art-o-mat enthusiasts! The Luce Center will provide art and craft supplies so you can create your very own artpaks to swap with your friends and family. Recently, we snagged a few minutes of Clark's time to ask him a few questions about the Swap Meet.

Eye Level: Where did the idea to do the swap meet come from?

Clark Whittington: Back in 1999, we had a small "convention" in the original arto venue (a cafe/coffee shop). Artists set up tables like a small crafts fair. That is when we noticed that artists would swap their arto work with each other and then go home with a small collection. In 2002 (our 5th anniversary) we had our first official swap meet.

EL: What is your best swap meet memory?

CW: Each one is unique and special things happen. But, I have to say that the energy of arto artists meeting (sometimes for the first time) is a very unique thing.

EL: What are you most looking forward to about having the event that the American Art Museum?

CW: Well, the American Art Museum is a wonderful host with a beautiful space. But, I feel that it will be nice to move beyond our home base for our 15th [anniversary]. Also, having more regional swaps over time would be nice as not all artists can afford to travel. So, this will be a nice test run. Having one out west is next on our wish list.

EL: What can our visitors expect?

CW: This is a rare opportunity to meet the artists who keep our machine network filled with art. It will be a fun afternoon.

The Swap Meet runs from 1 to 4:30 p.m. and we hope you'll come meet some artists and make an artpak. If you're not feeling so artsy, the Luce Center will also offer a special Art-o-mat scavenger hunt. See you Saturday!

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