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A taste of art: Dordt College students, teachers sell wares from vending machine

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SIOUX CENTER, Iowa | Matt Drissell has replaced food with art and made art out of food.

Two projects by the professor push the bounds of creating and selling paintings and other pieces. The latest of which can be found at the Fruited Plain Café, where a former candy machine dispenses an array of artwork created by students and faculty of Dordt College.

“It’s a fun way to make art be a part of the community and have the community readily embrace some of the things that are out there,” Drissell said.

The vending machine contains prints, miniature paintings, crocheted critters, a thinly rolled literary publication, ceramic bowls made by a retired art professor and reusable coffee sleeves knitted by Drissell’s daughter, 11-year-old Bella.

Each item, ranging in price from 25 cents to $30, has a tag with contact information to reach the makers.

Art Vend gives students an outlet to learn about the business side of being an artist. To market their wares in the machine, they have to consider a couple constraints. Whatever they make has to fit and be able to handle the drop. Drissell placed pillows at the bottom of the bin to soften the fall for more breakable things.

He developed Art Vend after seeing a similar setup at the Wheatsfield Cooperative grocery store in Ames, Iowa. “My daughters and I were fascinated,” he said. Instead of snacks, the machine doled out morsels of handmade art.

The idea has been around for a while. In 1997, Clark Whittington, a North Carolina artist and creator of Art-o-mat, took a vintage cigarette vending machine and filled it with photographs. Now, more than 100 Art-o-mat machines vend art across the country with the closest ones being in Omaha and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Drissell salvaged a vending machine from a nearby hotel that was going out of business. Bags of chips and candy bars were replaced by locally made, handcrafted pieces.

Initially located in the college art department, the big black box drew a few puzzled looks at first.

“They thought maybe the machine was an artwork itself,” Drissell said. Eventually, the concept caught on and Art Vend became a point of interest on campus tours.

As an artist, he’s embraced more conceptual work like playing with food products as an alternative to paint. He combined Jell-O, cake mixes and ice cream with polyurethane to create palatable pieces for a series called “Shelf Life.” Feast your eyes on “Bomb Pops” a painting of patriotic proportions with abstract red and blue bursts of color on a panel.

Using polyurethane and foods allowed Drissell to explore a unique blend of two contrasting movements from the 20th century: the rise of abstract expressionism and the modern food industry.

Art Vend makes a statement, too.

Vending machines were made to dispense generic products whether that is a pack of cigarettes, DVDs or afternoon snacks. Art Vend reverses the trend by showcasing local artists who create original works. No two items are exactly alike.

It’s art at the push of a button.


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