Western Washington University students may have noticed the appearance of gumball machines filled with plastic pods on campus. These gumball machines are part of a project from the fine arts department called the “Art Drop Mini,” a collection of machines that dispense small, locally sourced art pieces for just $1.
The project is run and operated by Western fine arts professor Garth Amundson’s professional practices class, a team of students that have worked all quarter on outreach, marketing, planning and filling the machines with art.
The profits of the machines all go toward a scholarship award given to an outstanding Western art student.
Amundson said that, although there has historically been an award given out to an outstanding Western art student, the financial part of it is a new addition, and “there was no money attached to it; it was just a pat on the back, so the students thought that was ridiculous.”
The project started over 20 years ago, first called the B-machine. At that point, it was an old, recycled vending machine, and you could select what you purchased for $3.
“The problem was, how can we get rid of this thing and how can we maintain it, and how can we make affordable small art that art students and non-art students can contribute,” Amundson said.
Amundson revitalized the project with the purchase of two gumball machines in 2017, and his professional practices classes have carried it on since then.
“The premise for this project is: ‘What can you sell? What will anyone buy? How can you facilitate the purchase of a small art project?’” he said.
He said his favorite aspect of overseeing the project is the community spirit and generosity he has witnessed. He said he appreciates everyone’s work and money and is happy that the money goes directly back to the students.
According to the group’s treasurer, Claire Pardue, the group has already raised over $600 between the machines and print sales this quarter, and $100 of that has gone back to the upkeep of the machines. The rest of it is going to the award.
“The scholarship that we give this year will be pretty big, as we raise more throughout the next few quarters from the new locations, it will be a pretty decent chunk of money,” Pardue said.
Amundson also said he is proud of how this class in particular has improved upon the project from previous years.
“Every class has improved on the art drop, now it has constituent branding thanks to the marketing team, and this class has improved every aspect,” he said. “Everyone in this room has collaborated and discussed every aspect of this. There are some real mechanics of the project which have been really fun to watch unfold.”
A box in the main office of the Fine Arts Building acts as a submission bin for pieces and anyone, Western student or not, can add their art to the box and have it used to stock the machines. The group said they are pretty sure every art piece submitted so far has been from Western students. Every member of the group has also submitted at least 30 small works of their own.
Fifth-year student Elise Wooten is a member of the group’s marketing team, as well as a multiple-time contributor to the project.
“A lot of artists struggle with selling their own work and this is us presenting an opportunity for you to get your art out there,” they said. “It gives you a way to put out your art physically and make things physically to put in with very low stakes.”
Wooten is hoping to enter the professional art world after graduation and believes the project has given them great experience in how to run a professional art project.
“The Art Drop Mini has been a really great project for us to do in this class because it’s given us a job and an easier task to see how many components there are to running an art business or being an artist professionally,” they said. “I think we’ve really unified it all. Everyone in the class is very passionate, and everyone in the class works really well together.”
Kelly Sorbel, venue director and facilities manager at Make.Shift Art Space in downtown Bellingham emphasized the importance of accessible art projects like the Art Drop Mini.
“That’s a really good place to start because you are learning how to represent yourself without anybody else representing you,” he said. “It could be a natural progression from that machine to showing at a gallery like [Make.Shift].”
You can support the project at any of the machines on campus or check out the group’s stand in the Viking Union on Nov. 30 during the Art Drop Mini art sale and fundraising event. There, prints from former and current western students will be sold for $5, $10 and $20. All proceeds go toward the scholarship.