Modern life may seem like it’s all about speed and efficiency, but it still involves a lot of waiting around, and when it does, we end up pulling out our phones while we wait in lines at the coffee shop or for the next train. But if you stop by the Santa Barbara Public Market, you’ll find an alternative solution to boredom.
Visitors to the Public Market can find a different way to pass the time with a Short Story Dispenser, installed at the beginning of last April by the Squire Foundation in partnership with the Public Market.
Just past the Market’s front door and sitting to the left is a short green machine with three buttons reading “1 min,” “3 min,” and “5 min.” Long line at Corazon Cocina? Just hit the dispenser’s three—minute button and out slides a slip of paper. As you stand in line or wait for your order, you can escape into a world of fiction for a few moments.
The machine is from the Parisian company Short—Édition, who has placed the dispensers in places like museums, universities, and train stations across the world. They say their invention brings people “literary experiences in unexpected places”. The machines dispense everything from classics to fiction and non—fiction written by contemporary authors vetted by Short—Édition, who receive royalties when their stories are dispensed.
When a friend of a Squire Foundation staff member read an article about Short—Édition in the New York Times, she convinced the non—profit to bring a machine to Southern California. The Squire Foundation staff thought the concept was exciting; a unique way to fulfill their mission of bringing public art to Santa Barbara.
“It keeps you off your phone, reading a piece of paper. It’s kind of an old fashioned idea,” said Jana Brody, Manager of the Squire Foundation’s Artist in Residence Program.
After making a connection with a UCSB grad who works for Short—Édition’s sales department, they moved forward with acquiring one.
“It was just too good to be true. We got a grant and purchased the machine, and then my goal was actually to shop it around Santa Barbara and maybe rotate it every two months to different public venues,” said Ms. Brody.
Ms. Brody’s first inclination was to install the dispenser at the Santa Barbara Airport, but after they passed on the idea she went to Margaret Cafarelli, owner of the Santa Barbara Public Market.
“Marge totally latched onto it. She’s a big arts proprietor and arts supporter so it was a good match,” said Ms. Brody.
After everybody sat down and explained to Ms. Cafarelli what the machine actually was, she was all in.
“I just thought it was such a neat idea,” said Ms. Cafarelli.
But Ms. Cafarelli didn’t just want the dispenser for a short time.
“When we pitched it to Marge she said, ‘Oh no. We don’t want it for two months. We want it for the whole entire year,” said Ms. Brody.
The Foundation agreed to keep the machine at the Public Market until April 2020.
The Public Market pays for the environmentally friendly paper and upkeep of the machine. The paper has had to be replaced more frequently than expected due to the popularity of the dispenser, but the cost is still very low.
One of the most exciting features of the machine is the backend support and dashboard offered by Short—Édition. These allow the host to see the dispenser’s analytics and to customize what stories come out. The feature tells the host how many stories have been read, what length is the most popular, and peak times when stories are being read. According to the Squire Foundation’s data, the Public Market machine has dished out just short of 6000 stories so far.
The Squire Foundation and the Public Market have made sure to take advantage of the customization feature, which allows the host to manipulate the genres or themes of the stories. The Public Market is community and family oriented space, and because the machine is right by popular Rori’s Ice—cream, the Foundation and Market decided to have the 5—minute button exclusively dispense children’s stories. Now you often see families sitting, eating ice cream, and having great time reading stories together, said Ms. Cafarelli.
“That’s what it was all about for me. Really having this opportunity for families to interact like that when we got the children’s button. Also for people when they’re coming in for lunch to just put their phones down and be able to read a short story instead of reading the New York Times or checking voicemail or looking at Instagram,” said Ms. Cafarelli.
The Squire Foundation hopes to utilize the customization feature to coincide with events, like having a week of stories on food for a food festival, said Ms. Brody. Recently, on August 1, the Squire Foundation and the Public Market featuring improv readings from the dispenser. The next step for the Foundation is securing a grant for a Spanish language machine to benefit the Santa Barbara community, Ms. Brody told the News—Press.
When the Public Market’s turn with the machine finally ends next April, the machine will need a new indoor location.
“It literally could go anywhere. Restaurant, library, galleries. Anywhere people are milling around and can take the time to sit,” said Ms. Brody.
Until then, families and diners at the Public Market can finally give their eyes a break and enjoy a nice little story.