Art-o-Mat brings affordable, handheld art to Farmville, Richmond and Alexandria.
You pay $5, pull the knob on a cigarette machine, and cha-chunk! A small pack falls to the bottom. Instead of cigarettes, though, the box holds a tiny work of art—perhaps a painting or sketch created hundreds of miles away, perhaps a metal and marble sculpture by Farmville artist Sandy Wilcox right here in Virginia.
You’ve discovered the brainchild of North Carolina artist Clark Whittington: the Art-o-Mat, a renovated cigarette machine that distributes art for a small price. Could there be a more fun way to expand your art collection without breaking the bank? The original Art-o-Mat, put on display in Winston-Salem in 1997 with pieces available for $1, was supposed to come down at the end of an art show.
Nearly 20 years later, the Art-o-Mat has taken over the country, with locations in nearly every state. Virginia is home to three of these retro-cool machines—at the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts in Farmville, the Visual Arts Center in Richmond and District Taco in Alexandria.
“We put a lot of pieces in there that relate specifically to our collection or exhibitions,” says executive director of Longwood Center for the Visual Arts Rachel Talent Ivers. “For our Old School: Camera Obscura exhibition, we stocked a lot of pinhole photography.”
The center installed the machine in 2005, but moved it to a more prominent location last fall. Demand has tripled, so they do their best to keep the machine stocked.
Each piece of art must be the same size as a pack of cigarettes, according to Ivers, but you’ll be amazed at how much creativity and beauty such a small canvas can lend itself to. ArtoMat.org