Squirrels, students ‘Go Nuts’ over vending machine art project

USF student Cassie Jacobsen placed a miniature vending machine for squirrels next to a traditional vending machine for a class art project. COURTESY OF USF SCHOOL OF ART & ART HISTORY.

Her arms felt like Jell-O after she finally placed her 15-pound creation next to a full-sized vending machine at the Fine Arts Building at USF.

Cassie Jacobsen took a step back to make sure her sculpture was in the best position. The open-faced black box made of wood with a metal exterior had a decal along the right side with a fake keypad and a colorful background with two words across the miniature panel: “Go Nuts!”

Before she left, Jacobsen stocked the box with walnuts. The project for her sculpture class that started as a joke among her friends was now finished — a vending machine for the squirrels at USF.

“The idea came in passing when I was talking with some classmates,” Jacobsen said. “I was like ‘Oh, a vending machine for squirrels,’ because we saw that the squirrels were everywhere.”

While it was simply a joke at first, Jacobsen latched on to the idea and decided to make it for the class. She couldn’t have guessed what happened next. Pictures of Jacobsen’s project started circulating around Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and people throughout the art building were talking about how clever it was.

The USF School of Art and Art History’s Facebook post had more than 4,000 interactions on the post. Jacobsen’s project became so popular, she had strangers complimenting her work.

“Honestly, it was kind of overwhelming the first day that I found out it had blown up,” Jacobsen said. “Now it’s just something that happened and it’s not overwhelming anymore.”

Despite her humorous, popular idea for a sculpture, Jacobsen isn’t interested in pursuing a career in that area of art. She’s most passionate about animation.

Jacobsen transferred to USF this year after taking classes in Green Bay, Wisc. because she simply wanted to get out of the state. Her father lives in Tampa and USF was among one of Jacobsen’s best, most affordable choices, she said.

But even choosing to study art was a risk.

“I feel like art school is kind of a waste of money,” Jacobsen said. “I feel like you can learn things anywhere. You don’t need to go someplace that’s exclusively for art.”

Tuition at FSU’s Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota is $42,330, but Jacobsen is able to pay in-state tuition at USF instead. She believes that, although art school can be considered a waste, the degree she is working toward will pay off.

“My dad tells me to make sure I get something good paying in my field,” Jacobsen said. “I feel like nowadays, especially with technology, you use animation for a lot of things. It’s not just movies. Graphic design companies use animation for commercials all the time.”

Jacobsen has tried straying away from art but hasn’t had much success. It seems like she’s always pulled back into this passion of hers.

“Every time I wanted to try something different, I always came back to making art,” she said.

Jacobsen said she will likely leave the squirrel-sized vending machine in its place until the end of the semester, but the cost of stocking the box with walnuts is becoming a nuisance — the vending machine has been a hit with the animals.

“I should retire now because I’m never going to make anything better than this,” Jacobsen joked.

As for her grade on the project, Jacobsen said the only feedback her professor had was a recommendation to put lights inside the vending machine so its contents could be illuminated at night.

“I think I’m going to get a pretty good grade,” she said.