I spent this past weekend visiting family in upstate New York, a rainy three day stint in Rochester, New York, to be more precise. What I love about traveling is the weird imperative it often distills in people to seek out cultural destinations. On the way to Rochester I stopped at the Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, which is a pretty spectacular, if oddly located museum.
While in Rochester I stopped by the George Eastman House the former home of Kodak film founder George Eastman, and now home to a pretty unique photography museum. The real treasure though, was both unlikely and unexpected. On my I encountered a vintage cigarette machine, cheerily out of time and place. I was delighted to see not tobacco, but art advertised in its tiny little windows.
The machine is one of a fleet of vending machines known as an “ART-O-MAT.” The machines offer for sale a range of original handmade art objects by over 400 contributing artists. They are operated by Artists In Cellophane, an organization started by artist Clark Wittington. Whittington established the first vending machine in 1997 as part of an exhibit of his artwork at the Penny University Coffee House in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The concept took flight when the café owner was so pleased that she asked to keep the vending machine as a permanent fixture. Now there are over 90 Art-o-mats throughout the country.
Art-o-mat at the Doylestown Public Library in Doylestown, PA
I was so intrigued by my experience that I couldn’t help but further investigate. Art-o-mat offers the work of artists from 10 countries, and from areas outside of art centers like San Francisco and New York. On the tail end of my trip I was pleased to pass the Doylestown library in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, home of another of the Art-o-mat’s. Though the program is noteworthy for bringing a diverse range of affordable art to cultural and commercial centers off the beaten path, there are also two in New York. That is what impresses me about this humble, but relatively ingenious initiative, it’s a reminder that art comes into our lives in so many way … you just have to pay attention.
To find an Art-o-mat near you, visit artomat.org.