Vending machine sells art over food

Art-O-Mat vending machine dispenses original art in small boxes. (Lexi Amaro)
The Art-O-Mat is located in Downtown Chandler at the Vision Gallery. (Lexi Amaro)

The Art-O-Mat located at The Vision Gallery in Downtown Chandler is an old cigarette machine that has been repurposed to sell art. Arizona has two Art-O-Mat machines, with a total of 90 across the U.S. Each machine dispenses a different piece of original art every time. Art comes in a variety of mediums, including recycled pins, panoramic photographs, clay hearts, and more. The vending machine is open until 5 p.m. during the week and until 4pm on Saturdays. The Art-O-Matic is closed on Sundays.

This machine first opened in Arizona in 2009, but the original machine was created in 1997. Started by Clark Whittington, he created cellophane wrapped art pieces once a friend of his associated the sound of tearing the packaging open with wanting a snack. Inside he sold black and white photographs for $1 each at a cafe in North Carolina.

“We get a lot of visitors around the holidays. The Art-O-Mat is always a big highlight for people, especially because it’s been here for so long. People come back when they’ve grown older and bring their kids,” said Caroline Hudson, two year employee at the Vision Gallery. 

The Vision Gallery works with the Art-O-Mat company to receive shipments of art for the machines. The other machine is located at Chandler Center for the Arts and accepts money directly. Artists around the country can submit their application to Art-O-Mat, who selects from these artists in order to stock the machine. Each token costs $5. Simply insert the token and pull the rod for the artist of your choice. A cigarette sized box is then dispensed into the bottom for retrieval. Although, it may get stuck on occasion, so make sure to ask someone for help. “Every shipment of art that we get is totally different. We try to request local Arizona artists, but it just depends on how much they have in stock to be able to send us. At least every two months we restock it, then we order new art about four times a year,” said Hudson.

Juliana Tobar is an art student at Perry who would be interested in participating in selling her art through the Art-O-Mat as well. “I think it’s good as long as the artists are getting a profit from it because usually it’s whoever made the machine or the museum itself will get the profits. I think that the artist should also benefit from it. If the museum itself could also, . . . that’s good because museums aren’t usually very funded.”

“We split the cost of each piece of art 50/50, so we get $2.50 then $2.50 goes back to Art-O-Mat, the company,” said Hudson. From there, Art-O-Mat partitions their proceeds out to the original artist. Artists are able to receive credit for their work, as their names are written on the machine, and some include their emails or social media. “I’m actually in a Facebook group that a lot of the artists are a part of. It’s cool to see that sometimes the artist will get a note in the mail or an email saying, ‘Hey, we bought your piece of art in Las Vegas’ or in New York or something like that,” said Hudson.

“I think that’s really cool. They’re selling cars now in a vending machine. Why not sell art?” said art teacher Lorena Decristofaro. “As long as they can package it in a way that it won’t get damaged, I think that’s really really neat and accessible, especially right now with covid . . . without having anyone touch money. Very retro.”

I, myself, received a painted block by Kathleen Hill from Kismet Art Studios of a sun, as well as her clay heart pin. I received a button set made from remnants of monoprints made by Diana Ptaszynski, a 360 panorama of Clay County, Minnesota from Su Legatt, a cracked marble necklace from Camille Corn, and a retro snakes block art painting inspired by the Nightmare Before Christmas by Lisa K. Each piece was cool and unique. I found myself wanting to buy more, even from the same artists, to see what I would get next.