NDSU students, professor bring affordable art to the public
Published October 12, 2015
A woman stands in front of the vintage vending machine. She’s initially uncertain about why the restored relic is in a modern shopping mall. But the feeling passes as she deposits $5, pulls a lever and watches a small box drop to the bottom. She smiles as she unwraps the box and sees the hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind piece of art she just bought in the time it takes to pick out a candy bar.
The art vending machine is located at West Acres in Fargo, and it was put there by faculty from NDSU and Concordia College in Moorhead. It’s part of a national project called Art-o-mat, which aims to make quality art more accessible and affordable. In addition, it gives students a real-world experience creating work for a general audience.
It’s a mission to educate and entertain.
These are common themes at NDSU. Students often get experience outside the classroom that helps them successfully compete with peers. And NDSU has focused on giving the community access to affordable art of many kinds for decades.
“As artists, we try to make our work accessible and to remove the intimidation factor,” said Su Legatt, NDSU visual arts assistant professor of practice. “Art is a different form of entertainment. And this is a way to showcase some of our great artists.”
NDSU students and faculty are helping bring low-cost art to the general public, with original pieces sold from a mall vending machine.
The West Acres Art-o-mat holds work from seven artists, including NDSU students Emily Tucker, Mathew Bergier and Shelby Biffert. Legatt and Concordia’s Jeff Knight have used the machine as a tool to help students hone their artistic vision.
Artists submit a prototype of their project to the sponsor of the national Art-o-mat group for their approval. It’s a selective process. Only the most progressive, personal and approachable projects move forward. The national headquarters agreed to help NDSU and Concordia students by providing feedback to help them improve their pieces.
Art-o-mat has been a powerful experience for Tucker. The senior equine science major created transparent photos of sparse North Dakota landscapes placed between two pieces of clear plastic. The photos project onto almost any surface when backlit.
“This helped me as an artist because it made me think about exactly how to make things easily accessible to the public and how to present my art in a way that would be appealing to the eye and enjoyable,” said Tucker, whose Art-o-mat project was recently added to a machine in Vienna, Austria. “It’s given me a lot of encouragement because I now know I can make something that people want.”
Artists accepted into an Art-o-mat machine need to make 50 original pieces. There is no mass production. Each piece is handmade by the artist.
Art-o-mat buys an artist’s work for $2.50 a box. The organization sells the work to the host machine for $4. The host sells them to the public for $5. Art-o-mat’s profit goes toward operating expenses, shipping, promotion and special events for artists. Legatt said the profits from the West Acres machine will eventually go to material grants for artists who want to participate but don’t have the startup money.
“This is a great way to challenge students and get their work out in the world in a different way,” Legatt said. “It’s a real-world experience that will help them as they move forward with other pieces of art. Our students and the community have been nothing but positive about Art-o-mat.”
The response to the West Acres machine has been positive. The goal was to sell 10 to 15 boxes a week. The average is 23 a week. They’ve even had to twice reorder a new batch of boxes from the most popular artists.
Legatt and Knight funded the project through the West Acres Regional Showcase Program, which highlights art of all kinds to entertain visitors at the mall.
Art-o-mat started in North Carolina in 1997 as a restored vintage cigarette machine filled with the work of artist Clark Whittington. There are now more than 100 machines across the country.