Product of the Issue

Sharpener:

Product of the Issue

Domo arigatoo, Distroboto

By Norah Franklin

In 2001, Louis Rastelli of Archive Montreal launched his first Distroboto at Casa del Popolo, a small café and music venue in his city’s Plateau neighbourhood. The former cigarette machine had been re-imagined as a vending machine for local independent art, and Rastelli worked hard to keep it filled with mini-comics, zines, crafts and music, on sale for only two dollars. Most of us know this story: the project was a huge success, customers loved the novelty of the distribution method and Distroboto was celebrated in the “Year in Ideas” feature in the New York Times that December. The network grew to include eight machines and has now sold over 30,000 items by more than 700 artists.

Despite Rastelli’s achievements, however, lack of funding has made expansion difficult. Distroboto does not correspond to any existing federal funding programs, and these categories are becoming more rigid as arts-and-culture funding continues to be cut back. The project lies somewhere between programs that help to finance distribution and those that fund dissemination. Because Distroboto is open to anyone, it is ineligible for programs that are limited to professional artists. “There is unfortunately no place in this sort of environment for new funding programs that would have the flexibility to consider entirely new types of projects,” explains Rastelli. “I’ve literally been told by funding bodies to take the art out of the vending machines and put it on the wall in a gallery if I wanted to be eligible for funding.”

This September, new Distrobotos were installed in the lobbies of la Maison de la Culture Cote-des-Neiges, la Mai-son de la Culture du Plateau-Mont-Royal, la Mai-son de la Culture Mercier and la Bibliotheque Parc-Extension in Montreal. Archive Montreal hopes that their affiliation with the city’s cultural centres and libraries will help the project to gain the favour of federal and provincial funding bodies. With more resources, the organization would expand their network of machines to cultural centres, schools and galleries all across Canada. They have some other ideas for development as well, including a web catalogue of works sold in Distrobotos and a workshop series.

In light of the millions of dollars that were cut to arts funding this summer, we in the D.I.Y. community should consider ourselves lucky that this project remains a labour of love for Rastelli. His optimism is admirable: “It really hasn’t been easy to work so hard for free on this project all these years while personally covering tens of thousands of its expenses, but its constantly higher profile and massive potential will hopefully pay off with some funding soon.”

For more information on Distroboto, visit distroboto.com.

 

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