Art accessibility made easy is the goal of a new business venture spearheaded by a High Country trio who consist of an author, artist and farmer.
Their business, called the Curio Machine, breathes new life into old vending machines by transforming them into 24-hour art markets. The three business partners making up The Curio Machine are writer Ben Loomis, visual artist Bunny Eaton and local farmer Jordan Holder. Loomis said inspiration for the business came from a visit to Portland, Ore.
“We had been out in Portland and we saw a creative vending machine business that was similar, but not exactly the same as what we were doing and we just really liked the idea,” said Loomis. “We really fell in love with the machines, they’re just old snack machines that people have fixed up and have equipped to drop art instead of snacks. We just figured we could do it in North Carolina, we could do our own version.”
Currently, the Curio Machine has five machines placed around Boone, with an additional machine located in Mooresville. The repurposed vending machines sell prints from local artists at affordable prices, with one print typically costing about a dollar. By distributing art at low cost, the Curio Machine hopes to increase the range of local artists by easing accessibility to their work and sharing it with new audiences. One of their newest machines, a full-sized vending machine dubbed “Neptune,” was recently placed outside of the Watauga County Arts Council’s downtown art space, the King Street Arts Collective.
Loomis said the Curio Machine recently received funding from the Watauga Arts Council, which helped get the new machine set up and put in place.
“We received their recent Artist Support Grant, and that was part of the agreement, that one of the machines that we set up with that funding be placed there. So big thank you to the Watauga County Arts Council and the North Carolina Arts Council for making that possible,” said Loomis.
“I thought it was a really cool concept, that they were really thinking outside the box about ways that we can get local art in the hands of visitors and locals alike,” said Amber Bateman, executive director of the Watauga Arts Council. “It’s cool that people can look in these machines and find a piece that speaks to them and get it at low cost. Hopefully it drives them to follow the artist on Instagram or on Facebook, or look at their website. Maybe they’ll find something that really inspires them and they can continue to support the artist more.”
The full-sized machines also means that they can be stocked with a wider selection of wares.
“So, in addition to art prints, we’ll be able to do apparel, books and different kinds of art that’s a little bigger. All types of different mediums,” Loomis said. “We’re trying with the big machines to help artists make a living doing the thing they love. We’re essentially a sales platform, another retail opportunity for artist. So if they have inventory that they would take to a fair, an art crawl or an exhibition, we can take that inventory and without them dedicating any of their time they could be selling that 24/7. As long as the machines are accessible to all new audiences.”
As for the future of their business, the trio has plans to approach things realistically, but will continue to spread their love of the arts if given the opportunity.
“We want to be realistic. So we’re just going to take it easy with these first few machines for a few months and see where our expectations should be heading,” said Loomis. “We would love to have more machines around Boone, all around North Carolina. We would love to make it an opportunity for other people to split off from the company we’re doing at different locales and help spread art in their communities with the model we’re making here.”