Art from a vending machine

(The images in this post are from @goodthingsvending Instagram)

Steph Krim, an alum of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (BFA 2013), has launched an innovative vending machine project called Good Things Vending. Instead of typical vending machine fare, these machines offer a variety of unique, handcrafted items such as greeting cards, 3D prints, paper puppets, painted blocks, and mysterious “grab bags” for no more than $20. These vending machines feature the work of nearly 200 artists and are scattered across diverse locations in Chicago.

  • Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602
  • Metropolitan Brewing, 3057 N Rockwell St, Chicago, IL 60618
  • Way Out Bar, 3213 W Armitage Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
  • Kimball Arts Center, 1757 N Kimball Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
  • Kaiser Tiger, 1415 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60607

I wanted to get a visual idea of these locations, so I made a custom Google Map.

Krim’s interest in vending machines sparked during childhood trips to Japan, leading her to explore unconventional vending machine projects globally. This curiosity inspired the creation of Good Things Vending. In 2019, she purchased her first machine off Craigslist and began collaborating with artists, many of whom are also SAIC alumni like Anna Mielniczuk (BFA 2019), Rachel Bard (BFA 2016), and Tanner Bowman (BFA 2015). These collaborations have been well-received, with artists appreciating the opportunity to work within the constraints of the machines’ budget and space.

The vending machines are uniquely decorated by local muralists, each design reflecting the surrounding environment of its location. For instance, the machine at the Chicago Cultural Center was painted by Molly Anne Bishop with iconic landmarks from the Loop neighborhood.

Good Things Vending has gained attention from media outlets such as Block Club Chicago, WTTW, and The Kelly Clarkson Show. Krim looks forward to the project’s community growing and evolving, emphasizing the value of the connections formed through this initiative. She hopes to continue expanding the project, thereby fostering a larger community of artists and art enthusiasts.

The project “Good Things Vending” by Steph Krim is fascinating for several reasons, touching on community involvement, creativity, and the unique approach to making art accessible:

  1. Promotes Local Art and Creativity: This initiative provides a unique platform for over a hundred local artists to sell their creations, from tiny coloring books to decks of cards, making local art more accessible to the public.
  2. Transforms Vending Machines into Art Galleries: The project repurposes full-sized snack vending machines to vend not just art but also vintage and nostalgia items, alongside practical items, effectively turning these machines into mini art galleries.
  3. Inclusivity and Support for Artists: Profits go directly to the artists, supporting their work financially. The project is inclusive, welcoming anyone to share their work through the vending machines, helping artists who might find packaging, pricing, and distribution intimidating.
  4. Engages the Community: Located in strategic and varied locations such as breweries, cultural centers, and art spaces, the vending machines engage a broad audience, inviting people to interact with art in everyday settings.
  5. Nurtures Joy and Surprise: Items in the machines are designed to incite joy, offering people a surprise or a spark of creativity in their day. The variety of items available at affordable prices ensures that there’s “something for everyone.”
  6. Encourages Collaboration and Innovation: The project fosters collaboration among artists, businesses, and the wider community, encouraging innovative thinking about how and where art can be distributed and experienced.
  7. Sustainability and Economic Viability: With items priced at $20 or less, the project is economically accessible, promoting sustainability in art consumption by offering small, affordable pieces.
  8. Cultural Enrichment: Good Things Vending acts as a “love letter to Chicago,” enriching the city’s cultural landscape by making art an integral part of the urban experience, reflecting the city’s vibrant art scene and its community’s creativity.
  9. Inspires Other Cities: The success and innovative approach of Good Things Vending could inspire similar projects in other cities, potentially leading to a broader movement that supports local artists and integrates art into everyday life.
  10. Community and Artist Feedback: The project benefits from direct feedback from both the community and the artists involved, enabling continuous improvement and adaptation to fit the needs and desires of both artists and their audience.

Good Things Vending exemplifies how creativity and community can intersect to create new experiences and opportunities for both artists and the public, fostering a richer, more vibrant urban culture.

Business owners who are interested in getting a vending machine; and artists who want to contribute their creations can contact Krim through this form on her website.

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Tom Saaristo
Tom Saaristo
1 month ago

Super cool! I love the idea of this expanding to other cities!

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