Upcycling: Big Cig Icon Turns Over New Leaf

Nearly a decade ago, publisher Louis Rastelli was looking for a new way to distribute his zines to readers. This happened right around the time that the Canadian government banned cigarette vending machines in bars and restaurants. Given this surplus of machines, Rastelli expanded on an idea he had seen in Winston-Salem. In 1997, a US company called Artomat began retrofitting vintage cigarette machines to dispense art. As Canadian cigarette packages are nearly twice the size of their US partner in smoke, Rastelli reasoned that they could be used to dispense both art and literature, and the Distroboto was born, expanding our minds through arts and culture rather than killing us slowly with tar and nicotine.

In the back of the Expozine program, I saw an advertisement for the Distroboto and learned a few details about the products dispensed. The machines deliver miniature books, comics, mini CDs and DVDs, arts and crafts, photos and other handmade surprises. As you can see from my photo above, the cost is only 2 bucks, $1.75 of which actually goes to the artist! Pretty good percentage I'd say, and an excellent promotional tool. In addition, it's open to anyone. In other words, there's no council deciding what is artworthy.

I tried the Distroboto a few years ago. Intrigued by the novelty, I made two purchases and got a mini CD, which was forgettable, and a really cute hand-drawn comic. Now this is a bit of crap shoot, and of course, you will come across some things that don't suit your cultural tastes, but guaranteed fun will be had just the same.

I have recently heard from Louis Rastelli, and in a subsequent post, I will write about a few of the 700 emerging artists who have used the Distroboto on their butt-less path to success.

Click here to see some of the funky vintage Artomat vending machines, which today dispense les chefs d'oeuvres of 400 contributing artist from 10 different countries. Pssst, double click on the individual machines to get a better look. My favourite is from the Motor City.

New York Times Magazine
Louis Rastelli


Heather | November 22, 2009 at 12:56 PM

Yes, it's a great idea! You should get something started like that in Vancouver. It would be a great way to promote your photography or even your blog or online venue where you post your pictures.
I went out this week and spent $10 in one of the machines. Two of the zines were very funny. I also received a few fridge magnets and a blues cassette. Unfortunately, we no longer have a machine at home that plays cassettes. I definitely had $10 worth of laughs with no hangover.

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