Sunday, October 17, 2004

Art*o*mat open for business

They used to sell cigarettes; now these vending machines dispense pocket-sized works of art for $5

By Lauren Bishop
Enquirer staff writer


It used to be that vending machines only sold stuff that was bad for you - a package of Twinkies, say, or a pack of cigarettes. Now, Cincinnati is home to a vending machine that sells a product that won't cause a host of health problems - although it's potentially just as habit-forming.

The product is art - sculptures, paintings, photographs, puzzles, collages, jewelry and more - all sized to fit in a small, cellophane-covered cardboard box.

The machine that sells them is called an Art*o*mat, a vending machine that's given up cigarettes in favor of dispensing works from about 400 artists all over the world. The cost to pull the knob and go home with an original work of art: $5, not much more than a pack of cigarettes. Unlike cigarettes, however, a small plaque on the machine proclaims, "Sales of art to MINORS are not FORBIDDEN by law."

Cincinnati's new Art*o*mat, housed at the ArtWorks Time Warner Cable Gallery downtown, includes art from high schools students who worked in ArtWorks' summer program for youth. It joins 70 other

Art*o*mats housed in galleries, cafes and coffee shops in 18 states.

"We're reaching people who have probably never bought art before and in some cases who have never made art before," says Clark Whittington, the 38-year-old North Carolina artist who dreamed up the Art*o*mat in 1997.

What: Art*o*mat, a converted cigarette vending machine that sells small works of art
Where: ArtWorks Time Warner Cable Gallery, 811 Race St., downtown
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
Cost: $5 for one token
More information: ArtWorks, (513) 333-0388 or; Art*o*mat Web site,
Whittington refurbished Cincinnati's Art*o*mat and installed it earlier this month, about a year after ArtWorks first contacted him about hosting one.

How much it cost: The Art*o*mat's $3,000 price tag included the cost of materials, labor, delivery and a presentation Whittington gave at the Art*o*mat's opening reception. The cost was covered by the Cincinnati-based KnowledgeWorks Foundation, which funds public education initiatives throughout Ohio.

Who designed it: Each Art*o*mat looks different, and ArtWorks chose North Carolina artist Paul Friedrich over two other artists to design the faceplate of the glittery red machine. It features a bright green character called the Onion Head Monster, marching Godzilla-like against a backdrop of skyscrapers as antlike people scurry away.

Where it's going: After a year, ArtWorks wants to bring the Art*o*mat to different locations around Greater Cincinnati in the hopes of getting more people hooked on the art habit.

"We really want it to reach as many people in Cincinnati as possible, and we think the best way to do that is for it to travel," says Colleen Stanton, ArtWorks program director. "I just hope it makes people happy."


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