Visual Arts

Utah’s Art-o-mat: $5 for Your Art Fix

art o mat

If you attended the Mountain West Arts Conference earlier this month, you might have thought the Utah Cultural Celebration Center was peddling cigarettes. Because yes, that was a cigarette vending machine you saw, but one that has been transformed to sell something hopefully as addictive: art.

Last month, the Utah Division of Arts & Museums purchased Utah’s first Art-o-mat®, the creation of Artists in Cellophane (AIC), ), an organization based in North Carolina that encourages “art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form.” AIC believes art should be progressive, yet personal and approachable. As they say in their mission statement: “What better way to do this, than with a heavy, cold, steel machine?”

There are currently 100 active machines in various locations throughout the country. The Division of Arts & Museum’s newly purchased model will be housed primarily at the Rio Gallery in the Rio Grande Depot for twelve months while it’s under an exclusivity contract. After that, the division will lease it to other organizations in Utah on a first-come, first-served basis.

When Lynnette Hiskey, Director of Utah Arts & Museums heard about Art-o-mat®, she knew she had to bring one to Utah. “We’re always looking for innovative ideas to get people excited about art and this is such a fun and easy way to buy artwork. We hope it will prompt an appreciation for art and encourage people who have never collected before to become more familiar with the power behind original artwork and begin to seek and want it more.”

At Utah’s Art-o-mat® debut at the Mountain West Arts Conference in early May, forty-six conference goers fed the machine a five dollar bill for a cigarette box-sized work of art. Utah’s machine holds work by eleven artists. Each artist includes a brief description of what’s inside such as “earrings with a twist” or “alcohol ink painting” and the works are as varied as you might imagine. Julie Fisher, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts chose a little robot with movable arms and legs and Gretchen Dietrich, Executive Director of the UMFA bought a barcode flip book. There were painted ceramic tiles, earrings, and small paintings.

Lola Beatlebrox of Peoa shows off her new Art-o-mat purchase.

Lola Beatlebrox of Peoa shows off her new Art-o-mat purchase.

Lola Beatlebrox, a grant writer from Peoa, found the instant art addicting. “When I pulled the knob, I felt such anticipation because I was not exactly sure what to expect. But I was not disappointed. I got a little robot. Then I put another $5 in and got a little landscape. Another zip of the five bucks and I got a portrait – all the size of a cigarette box and all a glimpse into the artists’ heart. It was like Christmas in May.”

There are around 400 contributing artists from ten different countries currently involved in the Art-o-mat® project and AIC says it is always searching for fresh work. Artists are asked to submit their art for review and if they are chosen, Art-o-mat® pays them to create work that will then be distributed to machines all over the country. Each piece includes a small paper about the artist along with their contact information so the new collector can learn more about the artist. The Division of Arts & Museums hopes Utah artists will participate so our local talent can be represented in the project.

The idea of vendible art is Artists in Cellophane’s answer to encouraging more art collectors. By combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative, yet approachable (and affordable) form, perhaps more people will take that first step to appreciating the handmade item. And there’s somewhat of a Pavlovian response when you hear paper unwrapping. It’s the same with the sound of a bag of potato chips being torn open, a box of Cracker Jacks being shaken, or the sound of cellophane revealing a new piece of art; without even having to turn around and look, your brain sends a message that says, “I want one of those.”

To learn more about Art-o-mat® and how to get your artwork into the hands of people across the country, visit


Categories: Visual Arts

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