Must Have: Pull Lever, Get Culture

Wonder how long that ham-and-Swiss has been sitting around in the office vending machine? For something a little fresher, slip $5 into an Art*o*mat, and you'll get an original 2-inch-by-3-inch piece of art. Clark Whittington, now 37, created the stylish contraptions, which are crafted from vintage cigarette machines, six years ago as a way to showcase his own work. Since then, 49 Art*o*mats have popped up in universities, supermarkets and museums nationwide, including the Whitney in New York City and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Some 15 more are planned for this fall, in cities like Orlando, Milwaukee and San Antonio.

The tiny works range from watercolors to clay sculptures to stained-glass mobiles; they're created by more than 300 artists, including celebrated sculptor Paul DiPasquale. Half the $5 goes to the artist, $1.50 goes to the host of the machine and Whittington gets the rest. Styrofoam sculptor Jules Vitali, who's sold his works through Art*o*mats for six months, confirms the obvious: it's not about the cash. "This project gives artists the opportunity to get their work into major venues, and it's cheap for buyers."

We're sold. To find a machine near you, check out But don't wait too long: some machines sell as many as 200 pieces a month, and often run dry around the holidays.