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Meadowlark Mercantile: Local Art For All

Plenty of people say they want art to be accessible to everyone. But Meadowlark Mercantile is actually doing it.

Want to purchase affordable art from a vending machine?

Done. Meadowlark Mercantile operates art vending in several Bismarck-Mandan locations.

Wish that new pieces from some of North Dakota's most cutting edge creators would just appear in your home?

No problem. Meadowlark Mercantile's new seasonal CSA program ships across the county, starting in February 2022. The last day to sign up for a share is January 20 - although shares might easily sell out by then.

I asked founder Nicole Gagner (who is an educator and an artist herself) about what inspired Meadowlark Mercantile and what's next for this dynamic collaborative force in the North Dakota art scene. She shared some of her favorite photos with us -- and even gave me a peek into what's inside the vending machines!

How long has Meadowlark Mercantile Art existed?

We only started last year! Our very first machine was at TedX Bismarck as a pop up in August, then went to the Bismarck Mandan CVB.

Since then we now have 4 machines total in Bismarck Mandan, and they have been really well received! It’s so nice to have a new and unique place for local artists to show and sell their art along with other creative and vintage items, and the support from the community has been great!

Where did you get the idea for an art vending machine?

I’ve been an artist involved in another project called Art-o-mat that refurbished vintage cigarette vending machines out of Winston Salem. I love the nostalgia of those machines, but the price and size limitations made me wonder how it could be done differently to focus on local artists, which led me to the refurbished snack machines.

Who else is involved with the project?

My husband Scott Grandi-Hill is my main collaborator with installing machines and making sure they are running smoothly, and then for local artists we are adding new artists everyday! We have Bismarck and Mandan artists doing everything from painting and pottery to jewelry, and we even have neat wooden magnets from a Minot artist, beautiful prints from a South Dakota artist, and awesome kits, glasswork and watercolors from Fargo artists. We have a little bit of everything!

What are some of your favorite things that people have put in the vending machines?

I really love seeing the variety. The fact that I just tell artists the size of the coils and they think "Oh, my polymer earrings would fit in there” and then they get to make what appeals to them and set their own prices- that’s so inspiring to me!

I’m also really partial to all of the vintage buttons and patches. It’s hard not to keep them all for myself!

Why did you decide to also offer a CSA subscription?

I’m actually also a huge fan of local food and agriculture, and I have always loved CSA boxes. The idea that you trust the farmer to just grow amazing things that you want- whether you know it or not! That idea is just wonderful to me, so when I heard that TAP in Fargo and Springboard for the Arts in Minnesota were doing something similar there, I thought that would be great here. We have a wealth of wonderful creative people, so being able to support those artists and buy a share of whatever amazing things they chose to create just sounded so appealing to me, so we had to try it out!

Why is a subscription an attractive option?

Well, other than supporting 9+ creatives throughout the region, you are also making your own life more creative and beautiful with the art pieces and experiences. There will be local pick up parties where you can meet the artists and have an amazing time, but we are also offering online options for those who can’t make it to the event for whichever reason, so you will still get the full creative experience.

Also, art makes great gifts! So even if one of the pieces isn’t your style, someone in it life will love it.

How did you choose the artists?

We cast a wide net with our artist call with the help of Dakota West Arts Council, North Dakota Council on the Arts and the Change Network, and we’re not disappointed! Our jury had beautiful work to choose from, and I know it will just get better each year.

What's the geographic radius for the subscription?

Our artists were chosen from central North Dakota, but subscriptions can be shipped anywhere in the US.

Any plans to expand the vending machines in 2022?

Yes! We are always looking for new partnerships. Anywhere outside of Bis/Man gets a little tricky for maintenance and restocking- but we are always interested in what we can make work with some creative collaboration! Even the cheapest refurbished machines are still a bit of a monetary investment, but with the community interest we have seen we expect it to keep growing and for it to continue to make some unexpected places in ND more creative and interesting!

What's next for Meadowlark Mercantile Art?

Our CSA artists are hard at work and our first pick up party is in February, with the last in August. After that, we are looking to put out another call for another round of CSA artists next year, and then we will see! We are always looking for new collaborations though, so that could manifest in some type of event or other collaborative art projects in the future- time will tell. It will really be led by what our artists and patrons are responding to and want to see or make more of.

What about you?

What kind of art would you like to see in a vending machine?

What have you purchased from a Meadowlark Mercantile vending machine?

How do you like to purchase art?

How do you prefer to learn about new artists?

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