Published: Sept. 1, 2017 By

But maybe you'd like to buy some art?Art O Mat

CU Boulder is, officially, a smokefree campus, and has been for years: No smoking permitted, indoors or out.

So, the appearance this year of a cigarette vending machine in the north entry of the CU Museum of Natural History has prompted some delighted double-takes.

A mid-century model last on duty in a New York jewelry store, the dispenser today serves a salutary role: It’s an Art-o-mat. Instead of Marlboros or Camels or Virginia Slims, it offers original artworks at $5 per.

“We wanted to provide something new and different in the museum that would bridge the gap between art and science,” said Samantha Eads, the museum’s visitor services manager, who pursued an Art-o-mat after first seeing one in Indianapolis in 2015.

The hope, she said, is for visitors to leave with a happy token of their experience that inspires a return.

Eads stocks the Art-o-mat with oil paintings, watercolors, jewelry, sculpture and fabrics with animal, plant and other natural history themes or forms. A North Carolina-based artists’ coop, Artists in Cellophane, provides the art. The Art-omats come from an affiliated nonprofit.

“We’re always looking for new ways to pique students’ interest in natural history,” she said.

There are about 100 Arto-mats around the country, according to, many in museums and arts centers, but also in libraries, hotels, restaurants and stores. They’ve been spotted in Whole Foods. 

CU’s mirrored model, a smooth, metallic specimen, rust-colored and replete with pull-knobs, previously served up art in Manhattan. After a touchup, it was shipped to Boulder.

“There are many styles of Art-omats, as there were many styles of cigarette dispensers,” said Eads. “The feel of this one just seemed to fit with the rest of the museum.”

Sales help support students in the museum’s Museum and Field Study program, and the artwork is easy to carry away — each measures 54mm by 82mm by 21mm, about the size of a pack of cigarettes.

art o mat

Photos by Glenn Asakawa