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Vancouver Vending Co. brings accessible art to downtown



What started as a pandemic idea has blossomed into a project that has “kind of taken over” Crystal Lau’s life.

Lau, who graduated from UBC in 2020 with a psychology degree, is the creator and curator of Vancouver Vending Co., an art vending machine currently located at 1055 Dunsmuir Street. The machine features work from around 30 local artists, from zines and stickers to pins and socks, with prices ranging from $3 to $30.

Lau’s idea arose from her desire to cultivate a safe and accessible way to display and purchase art during the COVID-19 restrictions in summer 2021. With a grant from Downtown Van, the business improvement association for downtown Vancouver, Lau began taking steps to make her dream a reality.

Though the process was not entirely smooth – Lau said that learning how to operate and program a vending machine was a challenge she hadn’t considered when she proposed her idea – reception to the project has been enthusiastic. Lau hasn’t faced any difficulty in finding interested artists to feature.


For artist Jessamine Liu, who works with polymer clay, embroidery and ceramics, the vending machine is a low-barrier way to display and sell her work. In the most recent cohort of displayed artists, she sold earrings, egg pins and mahjong pins in the machine.

Egg pins by Jessamine Liu and other artistic collectibles in the vending machines

Egg pins by Jessamine Liu and other artistic collectibles in the vending machines Crystal Lau / Vancouver Vending Machine Co

Liu, also an alum of UBC psychology, is currently attending graduate school for counselling. She said she “never imagined” producing and selling her art, because high fees for artists to sell their art in physical stores renders the process unattainable for many artists.

“The Vancouver vending machine gives an opportunity for art to be accessible for both the artists and people purchasing art,” she said.

Accessibility is also a key priority for Lau. In addition to providing a safe way for the public to access art during the pandemic, Lau strives to represent art from groups who may have been “historically marginalized from traditional art spaces.”

“It’s an easy entry point, especially for someone who’s not familiar with the art scene in Vancouver.”

Size is the only restriction for artist submissions, as pieces must fit in the “used snack machine” that now functions as a mini gallery. This makes the project accessible for artists who may not have the extensive portfolios required for submissions to traditional galleries.

For Lau, the vending machine brought together her art hobby with her work in community programming as a public engagement specialist with UBC Robson Square, where she helps organize and publicize events that bring UBC scholars together with the city centre.

Ten per cent of sales from the vending machine are donated to community organizations, with Lau selecting a new organization for each two-month cohort of artists. For September and October, donations went to the Vines Art Festival, which focuses on “land justice and Indigenous artists.” In addition to the donation, Lau invited the organization to guest-curate spaces in the machine for the November/December cohort.

Responses to the project have been positive, and people have reached out to Lau from across the country who want to establish art vending machines in their own cities. While she says that national expansion is “definitely a goal of [hers] in the future,” for the time being Lau continues to focus on the local community. She is currently planning to open one or two more machines in Vancouver, potentially including one at UBC.

Even with the success of her project, though, Lau still faces occasional obstacles in operating the machine.

“I’m still trying to figure out how to not have things get stuck in the vending machine. It’s an age-old problem that is still a tough one.”

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No. 3 Road art columns showcase Richmond's culture and heritage – Richmond News



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No. 3 Road art columns showcase Richmond’s culture and heritage  Richmond News


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Hermès Wins MetaBirkins Lawsuit, With Jurors Deciding NFTs Aren’t Art



Perturbed when an artist made a digital version of its coveted Birkin handbag with a reproduction of a mature fetus inside it, the luxury fashion brand Hermès watched in shock as other iterations popped up online. A Birkin with mammoth tusks affixed to it. One sporting the Grinch’s shaggy green fur. Others stamped with van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or populated by smiley emojis.

Hermès swiftly sued the artist, Mason Rothschild, over the NFT project he called “MetaBirkins,” arguing that the company’s trademark was being diluted and that potential consumers might be fooled into buying the unaffiliated virtual goods.

The case’s ramifications extended far beyond Hermès. In some of the first litigation to scrutinize the nature of digital assets sold on the blockchain, up for debate was whether NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are strictly commodities or art shielded by the First Amendment.

On Wednesday, a nine-person federal jury in Manhattan determined that Rothschild had infringed on the company’s trademark rights and awarded Hermès $133,000 in total damages. The jurors also found that his NFTs were not protected speech.


Rothschild’s defeat was a major blow for the NFT market, which has often described itself as part of the creator economy. But the jury determined that MetaBirkins were more similar to commodities, which are subject to strict trademark laws that prevent copycats, than to artworks where appropriation is protected.

In a statement after the verdict, Hermès said it was compelled to act to protect consumers and the integrity of its brand. “Hermès is a house of creation, craftsmanship and authenticity which has supported artists and freedom of expression since its founding,” it said.

One of Rothschild’s lawyers, Rhett Millsaps II, called it a “great day for big brands” and a “terrible day for artists and the First Amendment.”

Rothschild criticized the jury, the justice system and a luxury fashion house that he said was emboldened to determine who qualified as an artist.

“What happened today was wrong,” he said in a statement. “What happened today will continue to happen if we don’t continue to fight.”

The verdict could provide some guidance for brand owners, said Megan Noh, an art lawyer unaffiliated with the case, “about the line between works of artistic expression and commercial goods.”

Birkin bags, named after the actress Jane Birkin, are made by hand and take specialized artisans a minimum of 18 hours to make. Hermès does not disclose how many of the bags it has made since they were first created in 1984, but some researchers of luxury goods have estimated that there are now more than a million Birkins in the market. In 2021, the auction house Sotheby’s sold a Birkin for more than $226,000.

Rothschild had plans to create 1,000 MetaBirkins, which he has described as an “ironic nod” to the renowned brand, but only 100 have been released since the project began in 2021.

Each was priced at $450, and Rothschild also received 7.5 percent of secondary sales. Hermès has claimed in court filings that MetaBirkins reached about $1.1 million in total sales volume. Rothschild has estimated that he made about $125,000 from the NFTs, including the initial sales and royalties.


A metallic silver Birkin handbag.
A Birkin handbag by Hermès that sold for $136,617 at auction last year. The popular bags take specialized artisans a minimum of 18 hours to make.Credit…Sotheby’s
A metallic silver Birkin handbag.

“What we see in the Hermès case is how emerging technologies and historic, age-old brands collide,” said Ari Redbord, head of legal and government affairs at TRM Labs, a blockchain analytics firm.

Over the past decade, the French company’s Birkin collection has steadily generated $100 million in sales each year. In recorded testimony played during the trial, Robert Chavez, president and chief executive of Hermès of Paris, said he was not aware of any revenue that the company lost because of MetaBirkins.

During opening arguments in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Oren Warshavsky, a lawyer representing Hermès, argued that MetaBirkins confused consumers who thought they were connected to the fashion brand.

“The reason for these sales was the Birkin name,” he said.

Rothschild’s legal team questioned whether people wealthy enough to afford Birkins, which cost thousands of dollars and often have yearslong wait lists, would be genuinely misled by his art project.

Millsaps also argued that the NFTs were art that was protected under the First Amendment as free speech. The lawyer said Birkins were a “cultural symbol of rarefied wealth and status,” ripe for artists to explore as metaphors of consumerism.

“Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum — it’s often about context,” he said.

Blockchain assets like MetaBirkins were part of the financial boom-and-bust cycle in cryptocurrencies over the past few years. At the market’s height there was a $40 billion industry around digital collectibles, but fortunes eroded last year as the volume of NFT sales fell by 97 percent.

Yet lawsuits are still playing out across the beleaguered industry, including trademark fights focused not on the technology itself, but the essence of what users have stored on the blockchain.

Yuga Labs, the creator of the NFT franchise Bored Ape Yacht Club, has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the artist Ryder Ripps, accusing him of copying its imagery. (Ripps has said the lawsuit attacks his free speech rights.) The company announced on Monday that it had settled a separate case against Thomas Lehman, a developer on Ripps’s NFT project, who admitted to infringing on the Yuga Labs brand.

Noh said the best protection artists have against trademark disputes is the Rogers test, a legal standard established in 1989.

In that case, the actor Ginger Rogers had sued the movie producer Alberto Grimaldi, arguing that the film “Ginger and Fred” violated her trademark rights because it used her name in connection with its fictionalized depiction of a pair of washed-up Italian dancers. But a federal appeals court determined that the use of the name Ginger was an expressive element of the title, artistically relevant to the underlying film, and therefore subject to First Amendment interests that needed to be weighed against the risk of misleading consumers.

Rebecca Tushnet, a Harvard Law School professor who helped prepare Rothschild’s defense, said the Rogers test meant “you can’t hold someone liable for infringement unless their work is artistically irrelevant or explicitly misleading.”

During the trial’s opening arguments, Hermès attempted to minimize Rothschild’s credibility and artistic intent by focusing on his business strategy, displaying text messages in which he asked social media influencers to “do one more shill post” that might raise demand for his NFTs. The company’s lawyer also told the jury that Rothschild had publicized its cease-and-desist letter on social media, hoping that conflict might drive interest.

Judge Jed S. Rakoff granted Hermès’s motion to exclude a report prepared by the art critic Blake Gopnik that favorably compared the MetaBirkins to artwork by Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. (Gopnik contributes to The New York Times.)

The defense painted a more sympathetic picture of Rothschild, 28, who worked in retail for streetwear brands and luxury brands like Saint Laurent after dropping out of college. In 2021, he and Ericka del Rosario, now his fiancée, opened a concept store in Los Angeles called Terminal 27. He often hired assistants with the technical skills he lacked to work on projects, including MetaBirkins.

Rothschild was “a conceptual artist,” Millsaps, his lawyer, said. “The idea guy, not the guy who executes the job.”

The strength of trademark rights will soon be tested again when a case between Jack Daniels and VIP Products, which sold squeaky dog toys resembling the whiskey maker’s bottles, goes in front of the Supreme Court.

Some veterans of the fashion industry wondered why Hermès had bothered litigating the case at all. Although Chavez testified that the company had been experimenting with its own NFTs, including a project intended for release this year, it has let other unsanctioned projects slide, like when the Brooklyn collective MSCHF turned the Birkin bag into $76,000 “Birkinstocks.”

Ian Rogers, the former chief digital officer of the fashion conglomerate LVMH, who currently works at a crypto company named Ledger, said the company’s preoccupation with Rothschild was puzzling.

“Maybe this hit close to home,” Rogers said. “Luxury people should understand NFTs, because if you have been in the business of explaining why someone would spend $18,000 on a bag then you are pretty well-suited at explaining why someone would pay $3,000 for an NFT.”


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The Guardian view on arts education: a creativity crisis



t Winchester college, the alma mater of Rishi Sunak, students can take classes in wood carving and sculpture, perform on a proscenium stage at the school’s 240-seat theatre, or make use of the 2,000 books in its art library. The story is very different at state schools, which have seen a steep reduction in arts provision over the last decade. “The moment that convinced me to go on strike was when my school lost its specialist art teacher,” one striking teacher wrote in this newspaper last week. “Activities such as art [and] music … are the highlight of the week for a lot of pupils, but they’re the first to go when resources are short.”

English state schools are facing a creativity crisis. Since 2010, enrolment in arts GCSEs has fallen by 40% and the number of arts teachers has fallen by 23%. This shift is most pronounced among state schools in deprived areas, where pupils are far less likely to sing in a choir or play in an orchestra. Meanwhile, private schools have invested substantial resources in art and music provision, according to research from Warwick University. This depressing trend is part of a wider and self-reinforcing pattern. As fewer state students have the opportunity to engage with arts or music, fewer go on to study these subjects at A-level or university. The risk is that arts subjects will be restricted to a privileged few, shrinking the cultural horizons of everyone but the elite.

Art makes a person broader-minded and more imaginative. Yet the government’s bleakly utilitarian attitude to education has narrowed the opportunities available to state school students. Artists and teachers have long railed against the English baccalaureate, the system introduced without consultation under the former education secretary Michael Gove in 2010. The Ebacc excludes all arts subjects. It is also the bedrock on which a school’s Progress 8 score is based, which determines its place in performance tables. This gives schools an incentive to focus on “core” subjects – English, maths and sciences. Independent schools are not bound by these rules or performance tables, and are free to do what they deem best for their pupils.

Cuts have made this picture worse. In the 10 years after 2009, spending per pupil in England fell by nearly 10% in real terms. As support staff have been cut, overstretched teachers have less capacity to run choirs or put on school plays. Although the government announced an additional £2.3bn in school funding in last year’s autumn statement, most of this will be eaten up by the growth in school costs. Because arts subjects require space and resources, they are often most vulnerable to budget cuts. In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives promised a £110m arts premium to help schools fund arts programmes and extracurricular activities. This was whittled down to £90m in Mr Sunak’s 2020 budget. He promised this money would arrive by September 2021. But it has still yet to materialise.


The investment that private schools have made in arts provision refutes the notion, favoured by Conservative ministers, that education is simply a training ground for the labour market. But even on a purely economic basis, the government’s approach to arts education is self-defeating. In a recent speech, the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, noted that the cultural industries had grown at twice the rate of the UK’s economy over the last decade. Tackling the creativity crisis in state schools is a matter of urgency, both for pupils and for the country as a whole.

Poor old Britain. It’s been a terrible few years. After a succession of crises – austerity, Brexit, partygate, cronyism and sleaze – the country is limping towards a general election, the government out of steam, the public poorer than at any point for perhaps 40 years.

It’s important that everyone, including those like you in Canada, understand this story of sorry decline. The Guardian uncovers the truth about British life every day – its political scandal, royal rows and economic rout – and tells the world about it. That’s a valuable service. Will you invest in the Guardian this year?

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