When the hundreds of cigarette vending machines sitting in bars and restaurants all across the country became taboo – or downright illegal – the people behind Art-o-mat had a good idea about how to use them. Here’s a brief history from the organization’s website:
The inspiration for Art-o-mat came to artist Clark Whittington while observing a friend who had a Pavlovian reaction to the crinkle of cellophane. When Whittington's friend heard someone opening a snack, he had the uncontrollable urge to have one too.
The year was 1997, the town was Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Whittington was set to have a solo art show at a local cafe, Penny Universitie (which eventually became Mary's Of Course Cafe). This is when Whittington used a recently-banned cigarette machine to create the first Art-o=mat. In June 1997, it was installed, along with 12 of his paintings. The machine sold Whittington's black & white photographs for $1.00 each.
This art show was scheduled to be dismantled in July 1997. However, Cynthia Giles (owner of the Penny Universitie) loved the machine and asked that it stay permanently and machine remains unaltered in its original location to this day. At that point, it was clear that involvement of other artists was needed if the project was going to continue. Giles introduced Whittington to a handful of other local artists and Artists in Cellophane was formed.
Thirteen years later, Art-o-mat boasts 90 machines across the country, which vend the work of 400 distinct artists from all over the globe. You can see if there's an Art-o-mat machine in your area.