For most of us here at UR, our interaction with the downtown area is limited to stops along Bus 72’s route and a few college bars on Alexander Street. Most of us hardly notice the city skyline that stands as the backdrop to the buildings in which we live. Most of us are missing out.

One of the events that took place in downtown Rochester that failed to find publicity among the posters for senior nights and rooms for rent was an exhibit opening for an installation work of art by Clark Whittington.

As a visiting artist sponsored by the Rochester Contemporary, a non-profit organization for the encouragement of the arts, Clark traveled to our city from Winston-Salem, N.C. in order to conduct his first on-site installation of a series of pieces he calls Art*O*Mats.

Six years ago, an antique 1950s cigarette vending machine came into Whittington’s possession and, despite living in a town synonymous with a leading brand of cigarettes, he decided to renovate the machine for the purpose of dispensing samples of his art rather than packages of rolled tobacco.

The success of his first machine led to the renovation and creation of subsequent machines he refers to as Art*O*Mats. Many of these are on display around the country. Each Art*O*Mat is stocked with cigarette pack-shaped pieces that can be purchased with a coin and a strong pull of the knob.

Rochester’s Art*O*Mat is unique from the 42 other machines operating around the country in that it was created on-site rather than shipped to the city from Whittington’s studio down south.

The renovations of the decrepit vending machine took place at the Rochester Contemporary building on East Avenue, and the finished machine was then placed at Record Archive farther down the road.

This week marks the machine’s relocation from its first satellite site to its second one at the Mercer Gallery at Monroe Community College on East Henrietta Road. It will be on display until March 30.

The Art*O*Mat captures the essence of retro pop culture, while exploring the idea of art-as-commodity. Whittington also uses his machine for the distribution of work from all over the world that would otherwise have no method of exposure, such as the bronzes created by a tribe in Ghana currently being sold out of Rochester’s Art*O*Mat.

Rochester offers more cultural events than people think. The fact that an established artist from North Carolina would travel over 600 miles to contribute his own vision to our city is evidence of this.

Next time you step off campus to catch a fifty-cent matinee, or pick up a pack of cigarettes perhaps, take a moment to appreciate the fact that there is more going on in Rochester than what you read about on the walls of Wilson Commons.

Hampton can be reached at

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