Art-o-Mat: degrading art or promoting success?

*Watch this video featuring Art-o-Mat creator Clark Whittington as he explains the genesis of his “art for the masses.”

By Lanie Rivera

The Smithsonian’s Art-o-Mat vending machine was installed in 2010, but this recent article by San Jose Mercury News (SJMN) shows that D.C. was ahead of the curve — institutions across the country are now tagging along, using the refurbished cigarette machines to dispense small art pieces for just $5 (check out their over 100 of the nationwide locations here).

Amid a time when art organizations are financially suffering, it makes sense that organizations have embraced fun technologies like the Art-o-Mat to attract customers.

Some art enthusiasts haven’t welcomed this trend — they claim the vending machines undermine the quality of art. But it’s not like these cigarette dispensers give out little snippets of Van Gogh’s work. Despite criticism from naysayers, the Art-o-Mat allows both artists and consumers to easily market and collect art, taking art from one home and bringing it straight into another.

While some artists are amateur, others, noted Art-o-Mat creator Clark Whittington in response to this post, have been practicing their craft for years but they want to contribute to Art-o-Mat’s cause:

“We have professional photographers, painters, sculptors, etc. who make a living from their art. They are involved because they believe in the original concept of Art-o-Mat … getting art into people’s hands and making it part of their lives.”

And the machines are more than just a short-term project, according to Whittington in the SJMN article:

“Art should reach out to the public … Some people think this is a fad, something with a short shelf life, but it’s not.”

Photo by Karl Mondon

Photo by Karl Mondon

SJMN offers other methods art organizations have used to integrate their work with technology. These modern advancements, including museums with smart-phone apps and pre-theater commercials “fly in the face of artistic convention.” And critics have also claimed that Art-o-Mat is the art world’s way of upping their “hipness” to attract a larger audience, according to SJMN.

But artists, amateur and seasoned, have praised the machines for providing entrepreneurial opportunities, and consumers are enthusiastic for the opportunity to engage with art in an innovative way.

Art-o-Mat artist Dean Konop commented on the Smithsonian’s blog post about their art vending machine with enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity this machine provides for him:

I am an artist [who has been] part of the Art*O*Mat group (Artist in Cellophane) since 2004. I have created over 650 pieces for AIC and Art*O*Mat and I find the whole experience liberating and enjoyable. To work on a project and then have them dispersed to places I have never been to is exhilarating … Plus I get my name out as an artist through this whole endeavor.

While some outright oppose the new technologies, others are simply worried that inventions like these are a sign of an arts industry crisis.

Kathryn Jones, CEO of VisualArtsTV, a company that creates innovative ways for the community to engage with art, said that the art world is desperate to attract more viewers, reported by SJMN’s recent article:

“Our industry is facing a severe sustainability crisis … If speaking to today’s audiences via the technology they are already using will help to build more demand for the performing arts then I think we are doing the industry a terrible disservice by refusing to try.”

With this in mind, the question is: does technology really degrade the quality of art?

Some art connoisseurs have argued that ploys like the vending machines are disrespectful to both artists and their work, but others know the art world has to adapt to the changing times:

While purists bemoan the cheapening of the aesthetic experience, others say it’s a sign of times: The arts, like most sectors of the economy, must evolve or die.

And evolving it is. These antique “carcinogen delivery systems” have been repurposed by North Carolinian artist Clark Whittington. They are art themselves.

And the Art-o-Mat machines are undeniably gaining attention from the art world.

The Smithsonian’s blog post reported that consumers immediately took advantage of the opportunity to collect these eccentric pieces of art.

Within the first 12 days of the machine’s installation at the American Art Museum, visitors averaged 16 art pieces dispensed per day.

Not to mention, everyone can participate. It seems like a win-win. Whittington told the SJMN that his art is meant to, at its heart, serve the public:

“This way anyone can be an art collector … It’s as democratic as you get.”

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

[WC: 826]

*This post was corrected in response to a comment by the Art-o-Mat creator. He clarified that all of the Art-o-Mat artists are not amateur; many have been practicing their craft and selling their work for years.


Music Man concerned about community

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

By Lanie Rivera

Our increasingly technology-obsessed society seems to encourage individualistic tendencies — we often prefer to surf Facebook or Twitter while on our morning bus commute rather than converse with the man sitting next to us.

We could all use a little glue to pull us back together.

And that is George Whitlow’s plight.

Dubbed as D.C.’s “music man,” Whitlow can be heard from blocks away as he rides his “boombox bike” through the busy District streets near Howard University. He plays signature anthems, such as Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” or Kool & the Gang’s “Too Hot,” to encourage bonding through song, dance and laughter in the community.

An article on the Washington Post described Whitlow’s reasoning behind his mobile music machine:

His goal is to get hyper-scheduled, ambitious, uptight D.C. to get loose and listen to music — together.

Whitlow will persistently fight our “anti-social” culture, as he calls it, one day and one ride at a time.

Read the full story on the Washington Post here.

Redesigned Chuck Brown Memorial Pavilion does not alleviate community concerns

Left: original design, right: new design
Photos courtesy of Marshall Moya/Department of General Services presentation

By Lanie Rivera

The plans for the Chuck Brown Music Pavilion at Ward 5’s Langdon Park were recently redesigned, scaling down from an outdoor concert venue with a capacity of 900 visitors to a capacity of 200 concert-goers, according to an article by the Washington City Paper.

Not only did the new plans scale back the seating capacity, but they also tweaked the venue’s acoustics, changing the direction and improving the sounds quality the amphitheater would produce.

With the sound directed inward, the venue’s noise level will be reduced to alleviate the worries of surrounding residents. But, many residents are still uneasy about the outdoor theater’s installation within the neighborhood.

The amphitheater was dedicated to musician Chuck Brown, the “late Godfather of Go-Go” music, as named in this article by the city paper.

The Cleveland Park design firm Marshall Moya created the layout of this outdoor music pavilion in tribute to Brown, signifying the type of intimate venues at which the musician preferred to play, according to ABC 7 News.

Fillmore Arts Center faces significant budget cuts

*Video produced by students of the Fillmore Arts Center.

By Lanie Rivera

DC Public Schools (DCPS) recently announced budget cuts facing the District’s Fillmore Arts Center for the 2013-14 school year, according to this letter from the Friends of Fillmore group, a non-profit volunteer board that supports the Fillmore Arts Center.

The downsized arts budget is baffling, as it conflicts with assurances from city officials such as DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, as well as the District’s $6.8 million arts budget increase from fiscal year 2012-13 (a $2.3 million arts funding increase was proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray for fiscal year 2014 but has yet to be approved).

Henderson, who has recently been under fire for closing D.C. schools, promised that local schools’ arts programs would flourish after 15 schools close. Additional revenue that funded the schools will be allocated to those schools that remain open.

But an article on the Georgetown Dish noted that the arts budget decrease contradicts Henderson’s predictions:

“This year’s cuts to arts and music education at the eight schools come at a curious time: When Henderson announced her citywide school closure and consolidation plan last November, she that said by [closing] 15 schools … the school system would be able to fund more programming, including arts and music, at those that remained open.”

In response to the budget cuts, the Friends of Fillmore group, housed in the same building as Hardy Middle School, created a petition to rally parents together on the issue. Their goal is to force Henderson to stop the impending cuts and restore $300,000 to the program.

Fortunately, the Friends of Fillmore petition has already received tremendous support from Disrtict residents who also value the arts program.

According to a March 22 blog post by the Kelly Richmond, board chair of Friends of Fillmore, “over 250 Fillmore ‘friends’ sign[ed] the petition [since March 21] and reading all the tremendous comments of how Fillmore touches the lives of children past and present who have been able to attend touches my heart.”

Established in 1974, the Fillmore Arts Center provides art education to students at eight public schools in the District. Students are bused to one of two Fillmore locations in the District for two hours of art instruction, which includes classes in music, painting, graphic design, ceramics, theater, dance, architecture and sculpture.

So, I raise this question: why are programs such as Fillmore’s facing threats of budget decreases despite Henderson’s promise? And why cut funding when the District’s budget for arts programs recently increased?

The author of an article on Georgetown Patch posed a related question while noting that Fillmore provides a comprehensive, unmatched service to children through the arts:

“Why would DCPS take money away from a school that offers more in-depth programming —including an auditorium, graphic design lab and kiln — than any neighborhood school could provide on its own?”

In response, Peter Eisler, treasurer of Friends of Fillmore, told Patch that DCPS is “strapped for cash” and it is easier for them to take money from a comprehensive program rather than a single school.

Eisler also told Patch he assumes that Fillmore was subjected to drastic cuts because of the program’s schedule:

“Fillmore lacks the same level of dedicated constituency that you might find in a neighborhood school in part because the children only attend class there once a week, Eisler explained.”

Although Eisler implied that Fillmore has been pushed under the rug, DCPS differed in its response. A DCPS representative told Patch that the cuts were the schools’ fault because several schools stopped using Fillmore’s services.

Nonetheless, the budget cuts have undeniably upset the community. Many city officials do not support the budget decrease, including Councilman Jack Evans of Ward 2.

“I don’t agree with these kinds of cuts,” he told Patch.

When will authorities realize the valuable role art plays in the development of young children?

According to Facts and Figures, a 2012 report compiled by Americans for the Arts and Vans Custom Culture and cited by the Friends of Fillmore website, students who spend four years in art and music education earn an average SAT score of 100 points above those students who are exposed to one-half year or less of arts education.

The budget cuts will inhibit the award-winning program and will surely be a loss to students in the area. Luckily, many parents have recognized the importance of the program for their children’s education and are fighting against the funding decrease.

[WC: 730]

D.C. arts budget for 2013 raised by $6.8 million

Photo by Lanie Rivera

By Lanie Rivera

Despite frequent budget cuts for the arts, such as the funding decreases facing the Fillmore Arts Center, the District’s fiscal year 2013 budget increased funding for the arts by 133.2 percent from the allotted amount in 2012, according to this news release from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA).

Although this raise is second to Michigan’s 271 percent increase, the District of Columbia’s $6.8 million arts budget restoration is the highest of any state.

D.C. is now ranked the fifth state for total arts spending, following Maryland, New Jersey, Minnesota and New York, according to this article by Elevation D.C.

The District will spend a total of $11.1 million on the arts.

The summation of all state arts appropriations raised by 7.4 percent; it is both reassuring and inspiring to see D.C.’s arts boost exceeding this increase, demonstrating the community’s high regard for the arts.

Jonathan Katz, the CEO of NASAA, agreed, but he added that this stimulation for 2013 cannot be the end of support for the arts in the District, according to the organization’s news release.

” ‘The recent increase in state arts funding is a welcome and encouraging sign, but the road to recovery remains long,’ he said. ‘Since 2001, state appropriations to the arts have declined by nearly 40 percent, leading to cutbacks in arts programs and services that have been keenly felt at the local level.’ ”

He added that art is an asset to any community, and legislators would be wise to invest in the arts.

” ‘These [art] agencies can help elected officials achieve almost every goal they have: creating jobs, improving education, attracting businesses, rebuilding distressed regions and promoting a distinctive state brand identity,’ ” he said.

One million grains of rice

Photo courtesy of High Fructose Magazine

By Lanie Rivera

Artist Saeri Kiritani has defied all traditional sculpture mediums of marble, granite, clay and wax with her recent life-size self-sculpture — Kiritani used upwards of a million grains of rice for her piece, according to this press release.

Kiritani earned her spot at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery  when the 100 pound, five-foot tall sculpture won the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Kiritani is one of 48 artists who were selected to showcase their work in the gallery.

The New York native used rice as the medium for her sculpture, titled “100 Pounds of Rice,” because she wanted to reflect her Japanese culture, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase, “you are what you eat.”

“I grew up in Japan, where rice was the biggest part of my diet. It still is. You could say that the cells of my body are made mostly from rice,” Kiritani said, according to an article in Hi Fructose Magazine, a contemporary art publication.

Kiritani’s rice sculpture will be on display at the National Portrait Gallery from March 23, 2013 until Feb. 23, 2014.

Super Mario hits the District


Photo courtesy of Dave’s Geeky Ideas

By Lanie Rivera

Designer Dave Delisle of Dave’s Geeky Ideas has caused quite a stir among the District’s Super Mario fans with his Super Mario World Map fashioned out of the WMATA metro lines.

Gamer’s critiques are aimed at the real-life metro system rather than the artist’s creative spin on the map design.

“If this is anything like WMATA, understand that half of the stations will be unplayable due to station ‘improvements.’ And don’t even consider playing any red line station on the weekends,” commented Taytacular, a video game consumer, on’s March 20 post.

While some gamers were amused by Delisle’s design, others debated the efficiency of the map if it were played as a video game.

Many responses, like Taytacular’s, said the frequent construction of WMATA would pose many setbacks for Super Mario gamers.

“I bet my stop, Vienna, doesn’t have the princess. Just a castle under construction and a lot of magic whistle terminals that don’t work half the time,” said consumer J.D. Levite.

The District’s metro system was not the first subject of Delisle’s creative remix. California’s BART system was made into Mario Kart’s iconic Rainbow Road track.  The Canadian native artist also created maps for his country — Vancouver’s Skytrain map and Montreal’s TTC subway were designed in the likes of Super Mario Bros 3. London’s tube system couldn’t even escape his artistry.

In the future, Delisle hopes to work on designs for cities such as Atlanta and St. Louis.

His posters are for sale here.