Art to go: Vancouver’s first art vending machine aims to boost local artists

Need a quick art fix? The art vending machine offers magazines, buttons, stickers, prints, and other original works by local artists.


An unorthodox vending machine in downtown Vancouver offers more than soft drinks, chocolate bars and potato chips.

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Instead, people can get their art fix, to-go and contact-free, at Vancouver’s first art vending machine, located in the Bentall Center in the heart of the city’s financial district.


It’s the brainchild of Crystal Lau, founder of the nonprofit Vancouver Vending Co. She came up with the idea of ​​storing art in a vending machine last year during the height of the pandemic, when many artists were deprived of points. usual sales outlets for display and sale. her work.

Many cities around the world already have art vending machines, said Lau, who works full time in community engagement at the University of BC.

Even with COVID-19 restrictions lifted, Lau said the machines still serve a purpose: “A big part of this project is making art more accessible to people.”

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Some people may find galleries intimidating and art markets are few and far between, he added. “This is a way to dip your toes into the art scene. This is something that can happen rain or shine, and people can visit it.”

The project is also a way to provide a safe and accessible space to promote the work of artists, particularly emerging artists and BIPOC/LGBTQ2S+.

While art vending machines have been popping up in cities in recent years, the concept of an art gallery in a machine seems to have originated in 1997 in the US, where artist Clark Whittington repurposed an art vending machine cigarettes to sell his Black and White Photographs at his solo show in a North Carolina cafe.

Some of the art available, at a good price, in the new art vending machine at the Bentall Center.
Some of the art available, at a good price, in the new art vending machine at the Bentall Center. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

When the show ended, the cafe owner asked that the machine stay permanently. There are currently hundreds of Art-O-Mats in the US.

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The idea got a positive response from local artists, said Lau, who put out a call for artists on Instagram over the summer. She encouraged interested applicants to submit items in her catalog that fit the dimensions of a bag of chips or a candy bar, then narrowed them down to a list of 14.

Works range in price from one Canadian dollar to $60 and include pins by David Camisa, decals by Lottie Liu, and furoshiki prints and wraps by Anita Cheung. There are also notebooks, buttons, patches, pins, magazines, even crochet daisy coasters.

The machine itself is a repurposed vending machine, lit up with LED lights on the inside and a vibrant new exterior wrap by local illustrator Paige Jung, making it a work of art in itself.

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To make sure the project benefits artists sooner, the Vancouver Vending Co. purchased the items for the artists in advance, with the help of the Downtown Van business improvement group, instead of buying them on consignment.

A portion of the sales will go to various grassroots arts organizations. For September and October, the winner will be Vines Art Festival, an arts organization that nurtures artists with a focus on land and water justice.

If successful, Lau anticipates more art vending machines will appear in other parts of the city. “Ideally, it would be nice if they showed up at different events or had some sort of permanent home,” he said. “We’ll see. We just launched this week.”

The machine, which accepts credit and debit cards, will be on site in the Bentall Center’s Tower 4 food court at 1055 Dunsmuir St. for three months.

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