Vending art using the Art-o-mat machine

The Art-o-mat machine, pictured above, is located on the Grove level of Price Gilbert Library and is part of a larger world-wide initiative to promote art and repurpose vintage cigarette machines. // Photo by Alex Dubé Student Publications

Beginning on Oct. 1, the Tech Library opened an Art-o-mat machine on the Grove level of Price Gilbert Library adjacent to the Sideways Cafe.

The Art-o-mat is a vintage cigarette vending machine, refurbished and repurposed to dispense small art pieces in place of cigarettes.

Students can purchase a token from the INFODesk or online using a QR code and deposit the token into the machine to receive a small piece of artwork roughly the size of a cigarette box.

The concept was created by Clark Whittington as an art piece to be shown at Penny Universitie, a cafe in North Carolina.

When the store owner wanted to keep the piece on display, Whittington decided he, alongside his collective, Artists in Cellophane, wanted to use the machine to promote the works of local artists and public consumption of art.

From there, the piece grew into a worldwide art project. Artists from across the world apply and submit their work to join the collective of artists who are featured in the machine.

Organizations wanting to host an Art-o-mat similarly apply and begin the process of selecting and installing their vending machine and receive a shipment of small art to stock it.

There are over 200 Art-o-mat machines across the US and over 400 artists worldwide contributing to the project.

At Tech, Alison Valk, multimedia instruction librarian, spearheaded the project as a part of an art program being promoted at the library, known as the ARTS Initiative.

On what inspired her to bring the project to Tech, Valk said, “I had heard about the project because I had read about it in magazines, and I discovered that Georgia really didn’t have many Art-o-mats.”

Bringing an Art-o-mat to the library also fits with the goals of Tech.

“I thought it would be interesting for the renovated library to become a host organization for one, since promoting artwork has become a big part of the strategic plan with Georgia Tech,” Valk said.

After Tech was designated a host organization, Valk and a team of her colleagues at the library worked together to select the model of Art-o-mat. They chose the Space Monkey, which was one of the original Art-o-mat Machines.

Valk said this model was chosen because of its special meaning for the Tech community in reference to recent strides made in space travel and exploration, and the themes of science and technology would be appealing to Tech students.

Since its installation, the Art-o-mat has proven to be a success.

“At this rate, we’re going to probably be [replacing the art] every couple of months. It’s been very popular so far, and we’ve been selling a lot,” Valk said.

The Art-o-mat is also bringing a new slate of arts programming to the library.

The library has plans to offer a workshop and speaking event with Clark Whittington in spring of 2022, where Whittington will discuss the origins and inspiration for the Art-o-mat as well as run a workshop to teach students how to make their own small art prototype.

This type of programming and the machine itself is a part of the ARTs Initiative — Tech’s efforts to increase students’ exposure to arts through creative based programming and public art displays on campus.

One offering of the ARTs Initiative is smART (Students Making Art).

Expected in 2022, the goal of smART is to encourage faculty to integrate art into their course projects.

“[These courses] have the library’s support in whatever way we can — whether that’s bringing artists to classes as guest speakers or having artists run workshops to help them think about in new and creative ways,” Valk said.

The library is also excited to host an artist-in-residence in the spring of 2022 as a part of Tech’s efforts to promote artistic and creative programming.

“I think that’s going to be really exciting. Having artists use the library as inspiration for their artwork and share that knowledge with students,” Valk said.

The Art-o-mat fits well into the ARTs Initiative.

“I started seeing a need for the library to help develop some arts programming. There weren’t many outlets for students creatively,” Valk said.

“I think it essentially encourages students to look beyond just the Georgia Tech bubble and see what people are doing across the world and around the country.”

To learn more about the library’s creative programming, contact Alison Valk at [email protected], or view the library programming calendar at library.gatech.edu/events.