The inspiration for Art-o-mat came to artist Clark Whittington while observing a friend who had a Pavlovian reaction to the crinkle of cellophane. When Whittington's friend heard someone opening a snack, he had the uncontrollable urge to have one too.
After moving to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Whittington was set to have a solo art show at a local cafe, Penny Universitie (now Di Lisio's Italian Restaurant). This is when Whittington used a recently banned cigarette machine to create the first Artomat. The show opened in June 1997 and the original machine was installed along with 12 of his assemblage paintings. The machine sold Whittington's black & white photographs for $1.00 each.
This art show was scheduled to be dismantled in July 1997; however, Cynthia Giles (owner of the Penny Universitie) loved the machine and asked that it stay permanently. Clark felt that the machine would create a conflict in the space unless it was open to artists in the community. Giles then introduced Whittington to a handful of other local artists and Artists in Cellophane was formed. Today, there are 90 machines around the world and over 400 artists involved. Six of the machines are featured at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
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