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

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

Article content

An unorthodox vending machine in downtown Vancouver is dispensing more than soda, candy bars and chips.

Advertisement 2

Story continues below

Article content

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

Article content

It’s the brainchild of Crystal Lau, founder of non-profit Vancouver Vending Co. She got the idea to stock art in a vending machine last year during the height of the pandemic, when many artists found themselves bereft of the usual outlets to display and sell their work.

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

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

Advertisement 3

Story continues below

Article content

Some people might find galleries intimidating and art markets are few and far between, she added. “This is a way to dip your toes in the art scene. This is something rain or shine can be there, and people can visit it.”

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

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 U.S., where artist Clark Whittington repurposed a cigarette vending machine to sell his black-and-white photographs at his solo show at a cafe in North Carolina.

Some of the art available — at a nice price — in the new art vending machine at the Bentall Centre.
Some of the art available — at a nice price — in the new art vending machine at the Bentall Centre. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

When the show was over, the cafe owner asked that the machine stay permanently. There are currently hundreds of Art-O-Mats in the U.S.

Advertisement 4

Story continues below

Article content

The idea got a positive response from local artists, said Lau, who put out a callout on Instagram for artists over the summer. She encouraged interested applicants to submit items in their catalogue that would fit the dimensions of a bag of chips or chocolate bar, then narrowed them down to a roster of 14.

Works range in price from a loonie to $60 and include pins by David Camisa, stickers by Lottie Liu, and prints and furoshiki wraps by Anita Cheung. There are also notebooks, buttons, patches, pins, zines — even crocheted daisy coasters.

The machine itself is a repurposed vending machine, brightened with LED lights in the interior and given a vibrant new exterior wrap by local illustrator Paige Jung, making it a work of art on its own.

Advertisement 5

Story continues below

Article content

To make sure the project benefits artists sooner, Vancouver Vending Co. purchased the items for artists up front, with the help of business improvement group Downtown Van,  instead of acquiring them on a consignment basis.

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

If successful, Lau envisions more art vending machines pop up elsewhere in the city. “Ideally, it would be nice to have them pop up at different events or have some kind of permanent homes,” she said. “We’ll see. We just launched this week.” 

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

  1. Jude Kusnierz of Beaumont Studios says she would welcome the 'good competition' of more music and performance spaces in the Broadway area.

    Dan Fumano: ‘Vancouver’s future as a cultural city’ at stake in Broadway plan

  2. Artist rendering of the redesigned facade of the new Vancouver Art Gallery showing the building wrapped in a copper-coloured metallic weave.

    Indigenous blankets inspire weave-like facade of new Vancouver Art Gallery

  3. Garry Neill Kennedy works on Remembering Names, a piece that involved writing and printing the names of all art-related people he recalled meeting over the years, in October 2018, all while living with dementia. Kennedy died early this month at age 85.

    Garry Neill Kennedy championed conceptual art, influenced artists across Canada

More news, fewer ads, faster load time: Get unlimited, ad-lite access to the Vancouver Sun, the Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites for just $14/month or $140/year. Subscribe now through the Vancouver Sun or The Province.

Advertisement 1

Story continues below


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also
Back to top button