Art museum visitors will discover how crackling sound of cellophane inspired an art movement

Art-o-mat at Auburn’s art museumAUBURN UNIVERSITY – A North Carolina artist is breathing new life into retired cigarette machines with Art-o-mat and the nonprofit group, Artists in Cellophane. With a $5 token and the pull of a lever, visitors to the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University can purchase an original work of art and discover a new artist.

The creator of Art-o-mat, Clark Whittington, will share his effort to combine the worlds of art and commerce in a public lecture at the museum at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 10. Music by Cullars Improvisational Rotation and tapas with cocktail service in the Museum Café will follow from 6 to 8 pm.

Although more than 120 active Art-o-mat machines have been converted to vend art and are located across the United States in art galleries, museums, cafes, restaurants, art houses and other venues, the location of Alabama’s first Art-o-mat will be the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art.

“The very first converted machine I made almost 20 years ago was intended to be a one-time art piece,” Whittington said.

On view in a coffee shop, the machine was filled with Whittington’s black-and-white photographs mounted on blocks. He said he came up with the idea for the art installation piece when he noticed his response to the sound of crackling cellophane as his friend opened a vending machine snack — he immediately wanted a snack, too.

Art-o-mat at Auburn’s art museumIn 1997, Artists in Cellophane was born, and other artists began submitting their work. Whittington said now their Las Vegas locations dispense nearly 1,500 pieces a month.

“The small scale of the artwork allows people to wrap their mind around something representational or conceptual,” Whittington said. “The machine is approachable and the experience interactive. Something this small and at this price point is easy to manage.”

Whittington said that people are often surprised about the quality of work. “You would think that at this point, we’ve seen it all, but artists continue to show us new  and innovative things.”

Sometimes he finds old cigarette machines on sites like Craigslist, or sometimes people with machines find him. Whittington welcomes artists who want to be involved in the project to review the submission guidelines at

Museum director Marilyn Laufer first saw an Art-o-mat machine on a visit to Winston-Salem, N.C. “I visited the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, and there it was,” she said. “Then I saw one on my next stop at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. It was such a cool way to talk about art as fundamental and something a vending machine would offer – that it didn’t have to be about elitism and big expense. It could be simple and direct in a compact way.”

Laufer said the Art-o-mat will be installed outside of the Museum Gift Shop and ready for people to enjoy in April. The sales revenue goes towards the Artist in Cellophane and Art-o-mat project, the artists and the hosting venue.

Advance registration for the lecture is encouraged via the Eventbrite app of the museum’s website, Charitable, tax-deductible gifts in support of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art or other programs at Auburn are made through the Auburn University Foundation, which receives such gifts on the university’s behalf. Donors, alumni and friends can make a philanthropic gift in support of the museum by contacting Melaine Bennett, development officer, at (334) 844-7945, or by visiting

To learn more about the various means of donating to Auburn University, visit For additional information about the museum’s upcoming exhibitions and programs, visit or call (334) 844-1484.

(Contributed by Charlotte Hendrix.)

Charlotte Hendrix, Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University (334) 844-7075 (, or Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (