Art in Downtown Austin – The Art-o-mat®

Art in Downtown Austin – The Art-o-mat®

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I see this quirky little machine every time I walk in Whole Foods HQ downtown to get a healthy helping of freshly made vegetable juice.  But I’m usually in too much of a hurry to pay much attention to it.  I kinda always knew what it was, just never *really* looked at it.  However, I had a few seconds the other day and I FINALLY took a closer look and was just as charmed as I always thought I would be!

It’s a vending machine for reasonably priced art ($5!)!  Yay!

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According to their website:

The inspiration for Art-o-mat® came to artist Clark Whittington while observing a friend who had a Pavlovian reaction to the crinkle of cellophane. When the friend heard someone opening a snack, he had the uncontrollable urge to have one too.

In June 1997, Clark was set to have a solo art show at a local cafe, Penny Universitie in Winston-Salem, N.C. He used a recently-banned cigarette machine to create the first Art-o-mat®. It was installed along with 12 of his paintings. The machine sold Clark’s black & white photographs mounted on blocks for $1.00 each.

The show was scheduled to be dismantled in July 1997. However, owner Cynthia Giles loved the machine and asked that it stay permanently. At that point, it was clear that involvement of other artists was needed if the project was going to continue. Cynthia introduced Clark to a handful of other local artists and the group Artists in Cellophane (AIC) was formed.

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These little machines are all over the nation, with four locations in Austin (they are currently in Whole Foods Global HQ on Lamar, Whole Foods @ Arbor Trails, Whole Foods in Bee Cave, and the Mercury store in the 2nd Street District – Whole Foods @ The Domain is in the works). I LOVE this concept because I think these little pieces of art make great gifts, and are a way better way to spend $5 than on a coke and a couple of candy bars or useless pieces of junk that you may get from other vending machines.

I was so intrigued that I just had to find out more.  So, I got in touch with the owner of the concept, Clark Whittington.  First off, he had only positive things to say about Austin, which is not surprising in the least.  He says that Mercury was the first venue in Austin and they’ve been there about 6 years or so – he says that Mercury has been great to work with.  Whole Foods then contacted him and has since taken the concept under their wing, which he says has taken the concept to a whole new level.

He also told me that, even though the machines are throughout the US, there are several Austin-based artists who have work in the Art-o-mats. Here’s the list of current Austin-based artists:

Deborah Abbott
Marilyn Kirk
Jon Lawrence
Donna Toutin
Gabrielle Toutin

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Clark says that the real mission of the project is to promote artists. They have about 120 machines and about 300 or so participating artists. He describes the concept as the balance of art versus commerce.

I asked him how the concept has grown over the years. How it had started from one machine in a coffee shop in Winston-Salem to 120 machines across the nation. Here’s what he said:

I don’t really contact people because when I do I get treated like I’m selling vinyl siding, so I wait until I hear from people and then go from there. We’re an art project – it’s not the best business model.  It’s really weird how art centers and museums – if I pitch someone – they just start crunching numbers.  Lots of times, businesses like Whole Foods and Mercury understand that there’s more too it than every little nickel and dime.  Art-o-mat is not pretentious – we are reaching out to everyone, everyone is invited to participate.

I just want to share this with the world – with people that do get it.  The last thing I’d want to do is expand in a way that doesn’t mesh with what we’re doing.  We have to be calculated and relaxed with how we do things.  Artists and hosts have to find us on their own.

Logistically, every machine is owned by the studio – not only to control the quality of inventory – but because, at the end of the day, this represents Clark’s livelihood. There are a few collectors that own their machine, but most are on a lease. Then the host buys art from Art-o-mat on invoice, as needed. Clark works with artists to curate and distribute the art for the machines.

Clark says they are in need of artists, especially Texas artists.  If you, or someone you know, has an interest in either hosting a machine or providing art for the machine – you can visit Art-o-mat’s contact page on their website. He seems to be pretty responsive.  Want to see some amazing samples of the type of art work in the machines? Visit their Flickr page.





Slake Cafe in Downtown Austin – No Muss No Fuss

Slake Cafe in Downtown Austin – No Muss No Fuss

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I never turn down a free lunch. So when Alex, the GM for Slake Cafe in downtown Austin at 7th and Brazos (where Bakerman’s Bakery used to be) sent me a note inviting me to come in for just that, how could I say no?

The weather was beautiful, so I walked from the office to Slake at around noon the other day.  There were several patrons in line already, and the tiny little front area of the cafe (apparently, the entire Slake space is about 3,400 sf, but it’s mostly kitchen) had a bit of a chaotic, but not bad, feel (there were people in line, people milling about waiting for their order, couple of folks eating at the sparse interior tables, 4 or 5 folks behind the counter – kind of a lot going on in not a lot of square footage).  They are about to [Read more…]





It’s Open!  No Va Kitchen and Bar on Rainey Street

It’s Open! No Va Kitchen and Bar on Rainey Street

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I’ve been watching 87 Rainey for some time, and I’ve been anxiously awaiting to try No Va Kitchen and Bar since I first saw the TABC notice on the door in May 2012.

Well, it’s finally open, and I had the chance to try it last night.  Despite the name, the restaurant / bar concept is a definite go.

So many things to like!  First off, there’s a celebrity chef component (Brad Sorenson of The Next Food Network Star fame), AND he’s really friendly! Second, more FOOD on Rainey (which, as a Rainey resident, is very near and dear to my heart and stomach).  The food is tasty and not crazy expensive!

[Read more…]





Craft Cocktail Bar in Downtown Austin: CU-29

Craft Cocktail Bar in Downtown Austin: CU-29

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Named after the touches of Copper decorating the interior of the bar, CU-29 is the latest craft cocktail bar to hit the downtown Austin scene.  Located near Brazos Place Condos and across the street from the Omni, this little gem is a great place to order a fancy cocktail after a long day at work. Prices run from about $10 (and up) per drink AND people who live or work downtown ALWAYS get 20% off!

[Read more…]





Royal Blue Grocery Announces Next Location @ The Whitley

Royal Blue Grocery Announces Next Location @ The Whitley

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Big news for those living and working on the east side of Congress Ave.  Royal Blue proprietor, George Scariano, confirms with DAB that the lease is officially signed with The Whitley!

This will be the locally loved grocer’s fourth location.  The 2300 ft store will anchor the Railyard District, and we can expect an opening in July.

The store will be a full blown coffee shop, offering beer & wine, with an on-site kitchen serving baja-style seafood tacos, tacos al pastor, and flattop burgers.

We can’t wait!





Brass House to Open in Downtown Austin Convention Center District This Friday

Brass House to Open in Downtown Austin Convention Center District This Friday

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The little 100 block of San Jacinto has seen a little turn-over recently.  Hank’s Garage, which had been vacant for some time, was recently taken over by a concept called El Ceviche Grill, and the bar that was Skinny’s Ballroom – which closed not too long ago (and we here at DAB were pretty sad, we had been rooting for them) – has a new concept coming in called Brass House (website looks to be in progress).

I’ve been surprised at the lack of success at some of the places in the general area, considering the hotel & convention traffic coupled with nearby high-rises such as The Four Season’s Residences, The Austonian, and the Rainey Trio of The Shore Condos, The Milago, and Towers of Town Lake.  Perhaps sky-high rent and massive competition have been too much for many of these small operators.

Either way, I’m intrigued by Brass House.  Describing itself on its Facebook page as a Jazz House, Wine Bar, and Gastropub concept, the finish-out looks in keeping with catering to a higher-end clientele and they are touting that food such as “Dolmas, hummus, pickles, paninis, salads, charcuterie boards” will be “All made from scratch in house or bought from a local family owned source….”.

Here’s a picture of some of the decor that captures the general vibe of the place.

Brass House is supposed to open this Friday, February 8, at 4pm.  I’ll likely walk by to check it out and I’ll be sure to update this post with my thoughts!





The Highest And Best Use of Congress Ave Retail Store Frontage Is Not CapMetro

The Highest And Best Use of Congress Ave Retail Store Frontage Is Not CapMetro

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One of the things that always seemed curious to me is how and why Capital Metro (@CapMetroATX) occupied prime square footage on a heavily trafficked part of Congress Avenue, next to Annie’s. For many years, Cap Metro occupied the first and third floor of this three-story building.

Well its lease expires this coming April, and it seems the landlord is raising the rent. As a result, Capital Metro is moving into 209 W 9th Street (southwest corner of Colorado and 9th), which is owned by Harry Whittington.  There, the transit agency is signing a 5-year $3.3 million lease on 18,800 square feet.  This will allow the consolidation of two call centers – one currently housed at the 323 Congress Ave.

For years, the good energy of clear windows (“fenestration” for my fellow wonks) and ambience of Annie’s seemed to kind of get sucked way by the dark, looming, uninviting storefront of Capital Metro next door.

So what’s next for 323 Congress?

The entire building is 21,900 square feet, and  features open floor layouts, ample lighting and excellent visibility to Congress Ave.  According to this undated flyer from Weitzman, it appears to be listed for sale “between $2.5 million and $7.3 million.”  Or, it could be for lease $24-36/ft/yr by Cielo Realty Partners, as it’s shown on Loopnet.

I’ll be surprised if this languishes too long.  Office vacancies downtown have recently fallen below 12%, according to this Dec. 11 Austin Tenant Advisors press release, which compares well to other major cities such as Atlanta which reports a 24% vacancy rate. Average lease rates for all classes are averaging around $30/square in the downtown area while landlords of Class A office properties are quoting $38/square foot, or higher.

This, in part, is being driven by a number of web/computing-based companies setting up shop downtown, which is about as a good of a thing as a city could ever hope would happen to its downtown office space.  We can expect a higher and better use of our ground level retail, however.

FYI urban transit commuter: The transit store, where folks pick up passes, pocket maps and the lost & found, is also moving to the new location on 9th Street.





Fairy Tale Themes Come to Life in 2nd Street Shop Windows

Fairy Tale Themes Come to Life in 2nd Street Shop Windows

2nd St Holiday Window 2012 - Believin

One more unique and wonderful thing to do with friends and family this holiday season…
Head on over to the 2nd Street District for another edition of the Holiday Window Walk! Twenty retail windows have been done up by design and fine arts students from our area colleges in beautiful themes on classic fairy tales. It all kicks off tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 8th and will be up through New Year’s. Come by and join the festivities!
Here’s a nice little story on Amanda Ivarra’s blog, Miss A, that tells how this all came to be.