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Bellingham
Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Indispensable art dispenser

By Joely Johnson

 

Tucked away in a corner, wedged between recycling bins on the second floor of the Fine Arts Building, sits the Art Drop, a seemingly forgotten old-fashioned vending machine that dispenses art for a small fee.

Rather than your regular lineup of sugary snacks and fizzy drinks, this vending machine is filled with rows of original art pieces made by Western students. From vinyl stickers to dream catchers, to tiny felt mushrooms, each piece is vastly different from the next, displaying each student’s original art style.

The Art Drop, originally known as the B-Machine, has been in the art department for 12 years, and was created with the help of photography professor Garth Amundson.

When Western terminated its contract with B&P Vending, Amundson asked a B&P worker what they were doing with the old vending machines. When he found they were getting rid of them, Amundson asked if they could donate one to the art department. He then took the machine and modeled it after one that he had seen by “Art Vending Machine,” a group of artists who sell small, affordable art pieces in old, recycled vending machines.

The Art Drop went on to be passed around the art department for years and never really found its place. Through many locations, many art pieces and many malfunctions, the machine fell into disrepair. Then Amundson decided to take on the project again and bring it back to life.

Amundson decided to face this project again with the help of his one of his upper-division art classes, professional practices for studio artist. They brought the machine back from disrepair, gave it a new name and filled it with their art.

“I think it benefits the one selling it because it gets their art out there and I think it’s a way to help others appreciate it… You’re supporting local artists. So it’s great for everybody.”

Katy Caskey, WWU Sophomore

The artists create their art for a grade, but also to expose their work to the rest of the world on a slightly larger sale. Each piece goes for $3, and all proceeds go toward an art department scholarship.

“My question in the context of a professional practice class was: ‘Can you sell anything? Do you have the ability to make something that someone will want to buy? And if so, what would that be?’”Amundson said. “So, that was kind of the premise for the project. Can you sell something for $3?”

Art and accounting alumna Aria Lampi’s original art pieces are still for sale in the machine today. Lampi created wire and bead “dreamy trees” for her installment in the Art Drop and spent a couple hours on each piece.

Lampi thinks that the Art Drop could receive more exposure and have greater revenue if others knew about it. She said flyers in other buildings are one option to promote student art sales.

“Some students don’t even go into the art building,” Lampi said. “So if they are going to advertise, it would have to be in much more frequented places.”

Many Western students, including senior Sierra Raines, were not aware that the Art Drop existed.

A close up of the Art Drop. // Photo by Eythan Frost

“Now that I know about it, I think that sounds really cool,” Raines said. “You can just be walking by and be like ‘Hey, that’s cool,’ pop in some money and it’s easy as that. I think that the convenience is really nice.”

Sophomore Katy Caskey, on the other hand, knew that the Art Drop was there, even before she was a Western student.

“I sometimes bring quarters around with me to go see if there’s anything new in there, because it’s so cool,” Caskey said. “Once I bought this little satchel that had a little note in it, a little bottle of glitter and a watercolor painting of an elephant. I really liked it.”

Caskey is surprised people don’t know about the machine, and always tells people that the Art Drop is something that they need to check out. Caskey also appreciates how the Art Drop works to give exposure to student artists.

“I think it benefits the one selling it because it gets their art out there and I think it’s a way to help others appreciate it,” Caskey said “And the one buying it because you get to appreciate student art. You’re supporting local artists. So it’s great for everybody.”

Although the Art Drop is a staple part of Western to students like Caskey, it is an old machine that often malfunctions, Admundson said.

“That poor machine, I love it and I love the way it looks — it has this lovely, retro, nostalgic vibe. But it is falling apart,” Amundson said.

Although it needs regular repairs, Amundson hopes that the art department will continue to keep up with the project. He said the department is planning to do another professional practices class to revamp the machine yet again this coming fall.

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