San Diego’s breweries aren’t exactly known for being epicenters of the local art scene. Sure, one might host the occasional pop-up gallery or arts and crafts show, but more often than not the wares on display are either beer-related or on the walls to contribute to the general atmosphere.
So when a boxy, stilt-legged, self-service vending kiosk labeled the Artery appeared among the silhouette portraits and cask tabletops in Societe Brewing Co.’s tasting room last summer, it immediately stood out. The kiosk was loaded with assorted prints and postcards by local artist Pamela Jaeger, whose pastel-hued surrealism stood in glaring contrast to the rustic Victorian aesthetic of the brewery. While labeling on the cash box built into the unit’s base for the donation-based payment system politely suggested payments of $5 for a print and $1 for a postcard, the final value was left entirely to the customer’s discretion—including free, if need be.
Similar kiosks popped up at roughly the same time at the North Park and Ocean Beach Mike Hess Brewing Co. locations, as well as Thorn St. Brewing, also in North Park. There are now 25 Artery kiosks scattered around town, all of them in non-traditional venues such as breweries and coffee shops.
The Artery is the brainchild of James Yuransky, owner and proprieter of the Ego id printing company in Normal Heights. Yuransky, who produces art under the name Zee, built the prototype as an easily transportable means of displaying prints at art shows and festivals. He observed that without the apparent presence of a salesperson, customers were more inclined to purchase the art. After a few modifications and field tests, he recruited a stable of artist acquaintances and began approaching local businesses about serving as location partners. Societe, Hess and Thorn St. were among the first to agree.
The business model of the Artery is simple: the kiosk is placed at a convenient location within each hosting business by Ego id staff, who come by periodically to handle any maintenance needs and rotate in a new artist’s prints every 30 days. Customers simply drop whatever amount they believe their purchase to be worth in the cash box. The addition of digital payment systems through PayPal and Square even allows the cash-strapped to make a donation.
Photo courtesy of the artist
“Emo Cats” by Pamela Jaeger
Because Ego id handles the manufacturing of the physical merchandise, there is no upfront cost to or time requirement from the participating artists, who receive all profits generated by sales. In exchange for their participation, patron businesses receive complimentary logo branding on the postcards.
While the nontraditional locations are practical in that they have plenty of space and foot traffic, Yuransky is also betting that there’s more demographic overlap than initial appearances might suggest.
“These are art-friendly environments, where people have culture,” he says, “or are gathering places where they socialize.” That is, social locations where customers might be interested in art, but may not be inclined to wander into a higher-end gallery.
For the artists, participation requires absolutely nothing from them in terms of either time or energy, so they stand to earn a little extra profit without the hustle of marketing themselves. All of the Artery participants interviewed for this article specified the optimistic nature of the project as part of the appeal.
“People are generally good and this sort of system shows it,” says Scott Saw, a North County-based artist. “This isn’t like a gallery system. It makes art accessible to people who wouldn’t normally expose themselves to it, which is cool, too.”
“It gets people to create their own perceptions of how they value art,” echoes Adelaide Marcus, an artist and belly dancer who is one of the more recent additions to the Artery’s stable. “When you’re vending, people feel obligated to buy something. Here, people don’t feel like they’re being sold something.”
As such, the Artery is a two-part social experiment: Can the art sell itself in these environments, and if left to their own devices, will the public pay what they consider to be a fair price? While the endeavor is less than a year old, after several months the answer so far appears to be a resounding “yes.”
Photo courtesy of the artist
“Open” by Janelle Despot
Though the exact sales numbers per item are unclear, the Arteries are generating a profit. Indeed, demonstrated in pay-what-you-want digital music sales experiments by recording artists such as Radiohead, many customers actually are donating more than the suggested amounts. Marcus recently recouped profits from a single Artery location equivalent to what she makes at one of her hosted studio shows, and the kiosk has led to increased interest in the mandala coloring book she produced last year. Pamela Jaeger sold a $500 painting through her website to someone who originally encountered her work through an Artery.
These results aren’t a given, and different artists sell better at various locations, sometimes for reasons which are unclear. The public interest Yuransky anticipated is turning up, however, as people seem attracted both by the art and by the uniqueness of the experience.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” says Bella Guse, a City College library employee who encountered an Artery while buying a sandwich at Big Front Door in Hillcrest and proceeded to browse. “The price is really good, especially for the quality.”
“We see a lot of engagement with the crowd, especially on a busy night,” says Steve Devlin, a beer server at Mike Hess North Park, when asked about its Artery. “People will buy a beer from the bar, scope out the box, and walk away with a print or two,” often paying with the spare change from their drink purchase.
Though the project remains less of a money-making venture than an experiential means of distributing art to a wider demographic of people, Yuransky is confident that the Artery will continue to grow.
“The public encounters art every day, but it’s all digital,” he says of the Artery’s appeal. “These prints are physical, something people can touch and hold. This way art gets out into the community, and there’s no need to be wealthy to own some of it.”
He’s even more pleased with what Artery sales say about San Diego’s community spirit and appreciation of local artists. “People are generally honest, and this is an opportunity to exercise their innate goodness. If we keep doing a good job, people will reward accordingly.”