Winston-Salem has so many Art-o-mat machines – about 20 at present – that almost everyone who lives here is familiar with them. But they’re scattered far and wide, from Alaska to Hawaii, and from Australia to Austria.
Of about 300 artists whose work can be found in those machines at any given time, a substantial number of them live in Winston-Salem, where Whittington has lived since 1996. In that respect, Art-o-mat plays an important role in promoting local artists to a broad, international audience.
Art-o mat currently represents 25 local artists, but a few hundred others have participated over the two decades since Whittington founded the business.
At the beginning of 2020 there were about 175 Art-o-mats in venues worldwide, and the business was on track to sell about 80,000 individual pieces – average for annual sales in recent years, according to Whittington.
Like the vast majority of small business people in this country, Whittington has had to scale back his expectations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken a big toll on his business. In mid-March Art-o-Mat’s host venues began shutting down, and soon afterwards they stopped ordering new pieces to re-stock their machines.
Before the pandemic, Whittington said, 40 to 50 host venues typically ordered new artworks for their machines every month. This works out to between 50 and 400 individual pieces, depending on the size of the venue, he said.