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Daily Inspiration: Meet Artie Mills

Today we’d like to introduce you to Artie Mills.

Hi Artie, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico and that environment: the beautiful high desert, the beautiful people and culture were all so nurturing. I have always been an artist (even when I was trying not to be) and I was lucky that in my formative years, my mother took a series of jobs working for creatives. This gave me exposure to the arts that I would have otherwise not had access to. My mother was an assistant to Ann Maytag, who took me under her wing and really encouraged me to be my weirdest self. Ann was the first adult I really remember seeing me for who I was accepting me and making me feel okay about myself. She had a sculpture in her front yard that I was always drawn to – it looked like a giant claw. It was by Shidoni Foundry owner Tommy Hicks. Years later, my mom took a job at Shidoni as an accountant. It was a world-renowned bronze foundry with acres of sculpture, backed onto a beautiful plot of land in Tesuque which the river went through. I would spend as many days there as possible throughout the year, exploring the woods or watching the artists work in the wax room. I learned all about the lost wax process and many of the artists there allowed me to work next to them. Tommy had a granddaughter that was my age, and we quickly became best friends. We would spend the summers together at her grandparent’s house there on the Shidoni grounds. To this day, she’s my favorite person and has always supported me.

As an adult, I had a variety of jobs but none of them stuck. I spend my time right out of high school in the Army. I joined right before 9/11 and was one of the 1st females allowed into combat arms. I had joined to play the clarinet in the Army band, but because of the attacks, I wasn’t considered good enough to continue so they switched my job. A few careers later, I rediscovered my love of Makeup. It came so naturally to me and I really excelled at it. I became an award-winning international makeup artist, my specialty being bridal makeup. I enjoyed doing that for about a decade, during which time my husband, a Marine, got orders to Japan.

While in Japan, I really took that time to explore and learn about Japan and the culture. We lived in a small village about an hour from Hiroshima and later on the island of Okinawa. I was fascinated with the variety of vending machines and how they really were everywhere. Vending Machines were a fun, cheap and easy way for me to experience new flavors. I had a variety of snacks, sodas, beers and malted beverages. Because I could only read limited Japanese kanji, a lot of times I would put in the money and be completely surprised as to what would come out. One afternoon, at a local bookseller, I saw a small machine selling what looked like toy eggs. I put my money in, and out came a silicone pocket masturbator complete with lube and photo instructions. Another time, I was at a grocery store and put my money in a machine for what I thought were small figurines of women. When I opened it, it was a pair of panties. I loved the mystery and surprise of it all!

We moved to Texas in 2015, after my husband got out of the military. It was a stressful time for us, we are both disabled veterans and the transition out of the military after 13 years was hard. I went to college and obtained an associate’s degree. Inspired by my classes, I began to work on my art again, now in a different form. When we got to Austin in 2018, I knew I wanted to keep Austin weird. To me, Austin feels like home and always has. “Keep Austin weird” was more than a saying to me: I wanted to make it my mission! One day, I saw a viral video of eclectic vending machines in Portland and I was inspired to do something similar here. I knew that there were a lot of marginalized artists here who, for whatever reason, faced obstacles to getting their art out there. I created THOSE Vending Machines as a platform for marginalized artists such as myself to get their art out to the masses- at no cost to the artist. They keep 100% of their asking price for the art and don’t pay any rent to us for their space in the machine. We make our money off of the vintage and novelty items that are sold alongside in the machine. It’s been a wonderful experience watching it grow and seeing the artists I work with grow as well! I’m excited to continue to expand with additional machines throughout Austin planned. Currently, our machine is located at the Plaza Las Rosas gift shop inside the Tanger Outlet Mall.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
One of the biggest challenges I have had comes from just being disabled, this year especially. In 2021, I have had three emergency surgeries and nearly died of sepsis. Recovery is hard, time-consuming and expensive. The setbacks can be difficult to push through. I am not always physically able to do what I’d like, and mentally it takes its toll. Luckily, I have met some really wonderful business partners and supporters while on my journey and everyone has been very understanding.

Covid-19 has been hard to get though: our vending machine was located at a bar and bars were not allowed to operate for many months. Then the bar we were at changed hands. I had a vending machine in the garage, looking for a business who might say yes to such a wild and foreign concept when they themselves were only starting to get back on their feet. It’s difficult to pitch a weird vending machine to people who are unfamiliar. There are so many unknowns. People are used to seeing vending machines for snacks, drinks, maybe eyelashes. This is so different! You can’t necessarily bring a vending machine with you to a business meeting either, so you have to get creative. Luckily, our social media, local weirdos and purveyors of fun have really helped spread the word. I think that more and more people are interested every day. We’ve had a really positive response from our customer base and the community here in Austin. We recently did a partnership with Ranch Rider and The South Congress Hotel for ACL which was a blast and helped familiarize a lot more people with our machines.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
As an artist, I work in a variety of mediums. One of my favorites is perler beads (or melty beads). You may remember these from when you were a child- if you have children, you’ve surely seen them/stepped on one. These are small plastic beads that you put on a pegboard to make a variety of shapes or patterns. Once you have them in place, you use an iron and a piece of parchment to fuse them together and viola! You’re done. I find it very relaxing to work with, and I’ve made perler ornaments, magnets and crafts for a few years. I started doing it because I was homeschooling my son when he was young. He would do them with me and we did them frequently to bond. One year we even sold pop culture perler bead crafts outside San Diego Comic Con.

When Covid happened, my business shut immediately. I had a lot of time on my hands and my OCD was really out of control. I was cleaning up my workroom and I found a huge bucket of perler beads that I had not sorted yet. I decided that I would channel my anxiety and need for artistic expression into a Covid-19 art piece. When I started, I had no idea how big it was going to be. I knew I wanted to use one bead to represent one death. After a while, I realized that it was going to be a sizable project and that I would have to only account for US deaths. Thanks to a Big Medium grant when Covid began, I was able to purchase more beads pursue my work. I started by making hexagon tiles that joined together with jewelry fittings. Each Hexagonal tile has 782 perler beads on it. Right now, I have completed nearly 100 of these tiles and joined them together, but I am still a ways away from completion. I hope to have it be a piece of public art at a future date. Currently, it is about 4 feet high and 5 feet across.

So, before we go, how can our readers or others connect or collaborate with you? How can they support you?
If you manage or own a bar, coffee shop or hotel in the Austin area, check out that website to request a vending machine! The great thing about THOSE Vending Machines is that all of our customers have to go to your location to visit the machine. Since they’re already there, the conversion on sales is high. You can also find us on social media @thosevendingmachines to see where the machines are, what’s in them and behind the scenes action.

If you are interested in becoming an artist in one of our machines, check out the application on! It’s an easy 1-page form and we will get back with you. Our contracts are generally for six months depending on demand, so even if we are full when you apply, we have a list of future artists we would be happy to add you to.

Lastly, if you are looking for a fun addition for your event or just want to rent one for a couple of days, please e-mail us at Let’s talk about your needs, what we offer and how we can help.

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