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Art-O-Mat: Don't Go Around Artless! Be an art collector!

Picasso said that "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." By that rationale, we all should seek to infuse a bit of art into our lives every day. The creator of Art-O-Mat agrees!

I stumbled upon this neat idea last week while in Washington, DC, during a trip to the National Portrait Gallery. While there, I learned that a swap meet was going on featuring numerous artists that supply art to this cool concept called Art-O-Mat!

Art-o-mat® machines are retired cigarette vending machines that have been converted to vend art. North Carolina artist Clark Whittington started the idea as a way of showcasing his own work. But the idea took off and now there are over 100 active machines in various locations throughout the country: from galleries and museums, to restaurants, grocery stores and hotels!

"Slip $5.00 into an Art-O-Mat machine and you'll get an original 2-inch by 3-inch piece of original art (from watercolors, to clay sculpture to jewelry to stained-glass mobiles and more). So becoming an art collector can 'be as easy as buying a candy bar or a bag of chips.'" (Source ART news)

More than 300 artists, including celebrated Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale (who did the Richmond Braves indian and the Arthur Ashe statue), now create work for Art-O-Mat. Half of the $5.00 goes to the artist, $1.50 goes to the location host of the machine, and the rest goes to creator Clark Whittington. But everyone involved says it is not about the minimal cash. It is about helping artists get exposure and getting their works into major venues and more importantly, exposing the masses to art! So we ALL can be art collectors!

I was delighted to find that the ONLY Art-O-Mat machine in the state of Virginia is in Richmond, at the Visual Arts Center! And so we wandered there this week to check it out! (See for details and directions.)

Per VAC's wesbite: "You’ll find the Visual Art Center's Art-O-Mat machine on the first floor between the letterpress studio & the elevator. Purchase tokens from the Education Associate at the front desk. Then make your selection, pull the knob, and savor the flavor of real art. Start your collection today. And, remember, a portion of every sale benefits the Visual Arts Center, too."

I gotta say, pulling the knobs and receiving an art prize is quite addictive. I told the kids they could each spend $5.00. The hard part is deciding on which knob to pull. Each knob is labeled with the artist's name and general type of art. Caden decided on a puppet by artist Martha Schermerhorn and Alex decided on a fused glass piece from Artist Lisa Kohn. The fused glass ended up being a beautiful necklace. And the kids were hooked!

In the blink of an eye, they decided to spend their own money to do it again. This time, Caden picked an illustrated flipbook by artist Scott Blake and Alex picked art made out of antique game pieces by an artist named Susan, from Nashville, TN. The game pieces were Scrabble game piece earrings with the hidden message "Hi Five!") Check out the photos at the end of the blog.

As the big idea is to give artists exposure, gotta put in a plug for the artists whose art we collected. Please check them out at:

Scott Blake Flipbooks:

Game ON Art by Susan:

Passion Puppets/Art by Martha Schermerhorn:

Catch Some Rays Fused Glass by Lisa Kohn:

The Art-O-Mat website ( has a search function that helps you find a machine close to you.

Lastly, no trip to the Visual Arts Center is not complete without stopping in at their gallery. The current exbibit features some exciting and beautiful pieces of work from their current leaders and class instructors: from painting, to sculpture, to fiber ats, photography, film and more! (Kim McKnight- Recognize the life-sized Poe puppet from the Ted Talks?) My kids were so intrigued by the VAC, they are now eager to check out some of the Fall art classes there. (For a listing of VAC's adult and kid art classes, see:

So go forth and find an Art-O-Mat near you! And make ART a part of your daily routine!


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