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Las Vegas art now available in casino vending machines

Updated June 17, 2024 - 8:34 pm

The Las Vegas casino executive is making an art run in his own casino. He is led into a partitioned-off area, to a small art gallery which is actually a vending machine.

The big box is filled, not with Doritos and Snickers, but with nifty pieces created by local artists. A Wheel of Fortune slot machine is shown in the reflection of the glass as the exec runs his card, then bends to fetch a little stuffed unicorn.

“It worked!” Virgin Hotel President Cliff Atkinson says, holding up his prize. “I won!”

Elizabeth “Ziz” Atkinson won too. She is the 13-year-old daughter of Cliff and his wife, Jennifer Atkinson, vice president of marketing for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.

So Ziz got the toy and the Virgin Hotel got a slick new art vending machine, Gallery to Go. These machines bridge the chasm between downtown artists, and tourists visiting Las Vegas from all over the world.

The Virgin machine was launched during a VIP reception this past Sunday near the entrance of 24 Oxford, home of the “Lady Like” comedy burlesque show. The mobile galleries are the brainstorm of local art figure Nicole Cochener, proprietor of Squishy Studio at the Arts Factory in the Arts District.

A new way to deal

Cochener worked swiftly when the idea struck her.

“I had seen a video online about a lady who was doing trinkets and stuff out of out of a vending machine, she would go and buy old army men and repackage them and sell them,” Cochener says. “And I was like, ‘If she can do that, we can put art in one of those machines.’ It’s kind of a way for everybody to be able to show and sell their art.”

Atkinson’s piece was from Christine and Matt Esposito’s Hiptazmic Studio. I picked up a fascinating miniature, “Flourish,” from Elizabeth Woods, aka FizzyWood, of Las Vegas.

Her work represents pruning, cutting away dead branches to inspire growth. The shirtless male figure is shown with pruning shears snipping at a yellow rose as his head, seeming to cut his own hair. The rose represents friendship to inspire the viewer to cut back on dead friendships.

A very compelling message, especially for 10 bucks.

I also bought from the “Mystery Box,” a $25 piece wrapped in brown paper. This turned out to be an oil painting of a person dancing, or grooving, if you will. The piece is from David Soto and Janel Raihl’s ArtWavy gallery in the Arts Factory.

Starting at $5

The pieces cost between $5 and $25. About 30 are placed in each machine. All of the art is 5-by-7 inches or smaller, featuring original work and prints “and anything else hand-created that we can fit,” as Cochener says.

Cochener installed the first Gallery to Go outside her own Squishy Gallery in 2019, as a 24/7 mini-exhibition space. Over the past five years she’s established six machines in five locations: Her own gallery at Arts Factory, Omega Mart at Area15 (two machines), Fergusons Downtown, Slonina Artspace, and now Virgin Hotel.

As Cochener explains, the art is purchased wholesale directly from the artists, who take 50 percent of each sale. The rest goes to the cost of the machines, processing fees, sales tax and a commission for each location.

How much the artists receive varies, but most do about $200-$300 per month and some as much as $1,000. Some are far lower. It’s dependent on market factors, such as foot traffic around those machines — the Omega Mart machines need to be replenished almost daily.

“The other ones don’t need quite that much attention, usually,” Cochener says. “I think they said 3.1 million visitors come through Area15 ever year, and you have to walk past the machines to get out the door.”

Score.

A bigger box?

I’d mentioned to Cochener that when I first heard of an art vending machine in Las Vegas, I’d thought of a Carvana vehicle-selling structure. Such a glass tower could be loaded with massive sculptures and large-scale paintings.

Cochener laughed. Then there was a pause.

“That would be pretty cool, you know?” the Vegas artist says. “That’s an interesting idea, to do a gigantic one. That sounds kind of fun.”

Tease this …

I keep hearing of the powerhouse Mexican pop-rock band Maná in line for a run at the Sphere next year. We’d welcome that. The rock bands who have played and been announced are great: U2, Phish, Dead & Company and the Eagles. But it would be refreshing to expand the demo.

Cool Hang Alert

The Lon Bronson All Star Band is back at Myron’s at 7 p.m. Friday. These shows sell out, and I mean quick. Even Bronson is impressed at the response; there was a time he thought of tabling the band altogether rather than investigate a series at the Smith Center. But the self-dubbed Industrial Strength Band still burns, and if you can’t crack the code Friday, Bronson is back July 20. Plenty of tickets available then. Go to thesmithcenter.com for intel.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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