BY EMMETT WILLIAMS
The Art-O-Mat story began when conceptual-artist Clark Whittington created what he thought would be a one- time installation piece he dubbed Art-O-Mat for a local Winston-Salem, NC art exhibition. Previously he’d been selling Polaroid photos mounted on wood-blocks for a buck a piece. He re-purposed a discarded cigarette vending machine to dispense works of art for a reasonable price.
The gallery owner wanted to keep the installation and the concept enabled more artist to participate in it. The concept then grew over-night and it’s popularity has led to expansion outside the United States as installations are now in Alaska, Canada, Austria and Australia.
Whittington’s Art-O-Mat even has a Wikipedia page now. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art-o-mat
The basic principle is that Whittington wants to share art with the world as a whole and over time the Art-O-Mat concept remains the same.
“It’s an art installation collective project. We try to avoid branding it to a specific space. But we have given credit to hosts in the past. We work with a budget, designers and architects to make sure it looks good on-site.”
He’s been at it for 24 years now. “It would be nice to make more money at it but at 5 bucks it seems to be the magic number. So we get more art in people’s hands and grow artists’ art.”
Art-O-Carton is a 10 Pack of Art now available in the website’s store. During this time to give people a way to continue to support the artists, by re-creating the experience of visiting the vending machine. It’s not that much more for the art except for shipping costs.
I asked him whether he’d done trade-shows and or other promotional events in Winston-Salem…
“Periodically we set up short term installs, but primarily we are looking for hosts for long-term installations.”
I asked about set-up costs…
“Every hosting situation is different, there is a hosting fee to get an Art-O-Mat. Over time we make money. It can be very affordable up to a four figure range.” He said.
“There are body-shop costs etc. to modify the machines for use. But I know people want to focus on money so we have a Contact form on site.”
“Money-talk can happen later. Some Big-Fish-folks just kind of like to rush in and start throwing money at you, then it becomes a nightmare, we need to find out how to best meet the needs and workout long-term placement ideally, where Art-O-Mat will be installed.”
“I never thought art and money went well together. But I came out of art school in the 80’s and soulless abstracts ruled the roost. I’m from North Carolina and moved back to Concord. I try to keep a low profile, and it’s difficult when your product is in the public eye.”
“People have a preconceived idea of Art-O-Mat. I just want Art-O-Mat to grow gracefully, and introduce people to them. I just enjoy the subtle growth of the concept.”
Whittington wants it to evolve at its own pace.
Whittington is proud of the Artists who add to the Art-O-Mat concept and to its’ mystique.
“I just want to let it be.” He says.
The Artists have to apply through a form under the CONTACT link on the menu. Visit his site at ARTOMAT.ORG Whittington wants to get to know what he’s working with to create a better fit to the concept. He is a former graphic designer as well as an artist himself.
He wants folks to get invested in it and get their hands dirty making and adding art to it.
“I do love Art-O-Mat. It’s kind of a heavy load and at times stressful. I’m a conceptual artist from the south. There were pics at first, original concepts like pieces on the wall, and then I stopped making art around 2011 because it got to the point of having to focus on Art-O-Mat as its popularity grew, and being a concept artist I have to explain myself to people over and over. But what I’ve found is that if you speak with people without being condescending they don’t shut down. My audience has been told by some politicians that art is something that’s not for them, or not worth their time to learn about. Some politicians say money is better spent elsewhere. But now they can find out for themselves. First I made it affordable at just 5 bucks. So the affordability obstacle has now been removed, now they know they can own a piece of art and know where they can get more.”