Vending Machine for Artists Aims to Boost Chicago Makers

It is a kind of art gallery inside a vending machine. There’s a new effort to boost the profile of artists and makers in Chicago and put some money in their pockets. Producer Marc Vitali has a look at the lighter side of buying artwork – and other fun stuff – sometimes to just go along with your beer.


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Marc Vitali: At Metropolitan Brewing in Avondale…

And the Chicago Cultural Center in the Loop…

Re-purposed vending machines are stocked with vintage paperbacks, novelties, and… art.

We scored a signed print for 15 bucks.

The machines are owned and operated by the local company Good Things Vending.

Steph Krim, Good Things Vending:      

Good Things Vending is a creative vending machine project. It stocks local art, vintage and nostalgia items, and practical corner-store type stuff.

I’ll try pretty much anything within the constraints of the machine. There’s a price restriction which is $1 to $20 and there is a size restriction. It needs to be about the size of a bag of chips or about the size of a candy bar.

Vitali: Products might include a game of Bird Bingo, jewelry, or embroidered patches.

Steph Krim says business is booming, with the machines needing to be restocked weekly. A third machine is in the works. 

Krim: Before there was Good Things Vending, there were just some vending machines in my garage, which is not a normal thing to see in somebody’s garage. I was in hospitality for years. I was in the arts in the city, that’s what brought me here, I went to the School of the Art Institute and the thing that I really learned there is that what makes any education or any community beautiful are all the people that are involved in contributing.

Vitali: The vending machines themselves are a canvas for local artists commissioned to paint them.

And the items within are tailored to the audience. At the Cultural Center, for example, things are more family friendly.

But you have to visit the brewery if you want a locally made pin that identifies you as a “Cheese Slut.”

Krim: I love when people reach out to collaborate especially when they come with ideas that break outside of what I’ve done before, because it’s its own little satellite retail moment that doesn’t really have the same sorts of rules that like a brick-n-mortar shop would, so we can get pretty playful.

Vitali: One collaborator is Hannah Sellers, the creator of Cat Drool coloring books and more.

Hannah Sellers: Cat Drool is my art practice that was born out of the pandemic, and I’m a designer by trade and so doing Cat Drool allows me to set down a lot of the rules of design and just process my emotions and my life. It’s called Cat Drool because my cat drools when he’s happy. So I thought that was pretty unique. I’ve found that other people have cats that drool as well so it’s kind of fun

It totally gives my art a different form and shape, and also it gives me a different venue. Like I would never have my art at Metropolitan Brewing. Someone could just be grabbing a beer and they’re like ‘oh what’s this’ and they’ve never heard of me or my art and then they just grab a coloring book or a sticker pack, and I’m still floored that people buy them. Steph will be like ‘Your row sold out again’ and I’m like ‘What do you mean?’ Like someone bought my sticker pack of my cat drooling?

Vitali: The machines accept cash or plastic, and profits are divvied up.

Krim: Right now, the way that it’s set up is that artists’ goods are in the machine on consignment. It’s 60/40 in favor of the artist. If items are really successful and I have trouble keeping them stocked, sometimes I’ll purchase work wholesale. What we’ve found are that short runs are the best, so somebody will produce 10, 12, maybe 20 of something and when that run is gone, that run is gone.    

Generally, it’s this feeling of joy, that’s the thing that I feel most because that person that decided to walk up, they’re probably into what I’m into. And seeing somebody do something like open a grab bag or check out a new artist product while hanging here or you see people play the games or comparing which socks they got, those types of things make me feel like the project really comes to life and its more than just this static vending machine but it’s this community. That’s how it feels to me.    

More on this story

Good Things Vending machines can be found at the Chicago Cultural Center and Metropolitan Brewing. A third machine will be installed at the Way Out bar in Logan Square next month. Find out more on their Instagram page via website.

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