Vending machines aren’t just for snack food anymore. A staple in office buildings or schools, they’ve been a great place to alleviate hunger, and even those of a certain age bracket will likely remember then you could go to a one for a pack of smokes.
The town of Mancos and the Mancos Creative District, have acquired several vending machines, aiming to change the traditional content found within – instead of loading them with salty or chocolate snacks, they’re stocked with locally made art, all in an effort to raise a little money for the town’s growing number of artist/residents, and to promote art in general.
When Mancos artist Alex Bond saw an art vending machine in a Las Vegas casino, he figured he could bring the idea home. Internet research revealed this trend has already hit Europe, while more digging turned up available machines in Flagstaff, Arizona. Soon after, Bond found himself pulling a trailer loaded machines back to Montezuma County. Then he and other members of the Mancos Creative District taught themselves vending machine repair while also putting together a list of local artists whose work can stock the machine. You have to find the right art, as $250 glass earrings aren’t an item that can survive a 3-foot fall from the top row of the machine.
“The whole thing about the vending machine, it’s supposed to be like the snack food version of art. You don’t go to a vending machine and buy filet mignon, you buy Fritos,” Bond said. “It’s perfect for those just dabbling in the business of art.”
It’s pushed some artists to get even more creative. A 5-by-5 watercolor painting obviously won’t fit into slot A7, but a sticker, or smaller image of the painting will.
It’s a project that has been well received. The vending machines are located at Fenceline Cidery and Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters, with everything from prints and greeting cards to stickers and jewelry.
“In our first month of operation, the machine generated more than $400 in proceeds that went directly back to the artist,” said Dana Timmons, administrator for the Mancos Creative District. “As of right now, we have 24 artists participating in this project, and still more to come.”
Local musician Erik Nordstrom of bands Lawn Chair Kings and Farmington Hill, among others, has taken to stocking the machines that have available space with local and regional music. This not only gives music lovers a place to purchase, it gives music makers a place to sell.
“Music has become as disposable as the fleeting images on social media, and many folks have lost the joy of listening to a full album and interacting with the physical artwork. My hope is that the local music section will be a win-win for musicians and people that want to support the local music scene,” Nordstrom said. “This could be a quirky upside of the pandemic, as live performances have become scarcer. There is much recorded music that represents Southwest Colorado, and people might rediscover this. And it’s kind of fun that the transaction happens through a vending machine.”
Art is for everyone, but it’s something not everyone can acquire; financial and space limitations may hinder one from purchasing that large painting or sculpture, and the demise of record stores keeps you from beefing up your music collection. This may alleviate some of the roadblocks that have kept people from grabbing the art they want. It also gives the actual physical piece of art a place to be, which is in the hands of the people; without human eyes or ears to enjoy it, that handmade jewelry, watercolor print or piece of music is just taking up space.
“It was meant to make art and selling art really accessible to a huge array of different kinds of people,” Bond said.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.