The GRAM team was inspired after seeing Montel Williams’ powerful keynote presentation at the Cannabis Science Conference last year. The Emmy Award winning television star, decorated veteran, and fitness enthusiast was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) in 1999. Montel explains, “I had been trying opioids for about a year and a half, and they weren’t really giving me sufficient relief.” His doctor then gave him a recommendation for cannabis. “I think when the doctor first recommended it, I really didn’t understand the full research and medical implications of cannabis. I literally dug in and tried to see if I could find some printed materials. Back then the internet wasn’t as robust as it is today, so, it took a long time searching and finding information. But even back in 2000 and 2001, I was starting to get information that was coincident with the information that’s in our government’s own patent for cannabinoids which identifies cannabinoids as having anti-inflammatory properties. Recognizing the fact that inflammation is one of the biggest nemeses of MS, I decided to see if I could gain any anti-inflammatory relief from using cannabis and did so really first kind of trying it to see if I got anything out of it. I’d also been down a pretty heavy pathway of opioid prescriptions. I had doctors who were willing to write me prescription after prescription after prescription of opioids, and I wanted to see if I could break that cycle. It really helped me break that cycle.”
I use a higher THC in the mornings to start my day, and I shift over to a higher CBD in the evening.
Montel tells us how he went ahead with his recommendation and sought out cannabis to try and find a couple strains. However, this wasn’t Montel’s first experience with cannabis. “I used cannabis when I was in high school. I’m a child of the 70’s, so cannabis was around, and I probably used it, I would say back then recreationally, but not on a regular basis. I had gone away from cannabis for almost 20 years because of my time in the military. So, when I started using it again on a regular basis, I’d already started my career in Hollywood and been to a couple of parties where cannabis was available.” He says, even then, he was only an every other month type of consumer. He explains how after reading the literature and learning it works better when you use it consistently and on a regular basis, he started a more consistent routine. “I started doing so and after about only two months, I started getting more relief.”
“Early on, I found that using the higher CBD, the more relief I started getting. But then, I started noticing that after, I’d say about two years, I started noticing that I needed to include some THC and that and the fuller spectrum, the better the relief. So for me, I now use varied forms throughout the day. I use a higher THC in the mornings to start my day, and I shift over to a higher CBD in the evening.” He explains although he’s used cannabis and been an activist for over two decades, he has been a non-flower consumer for a couple decades. “I have been a non-flower user for almost 20 years, and I shifted over to using kief in about 2001, long before it was vogue. I found that, for me, I get better relief out of kief than I do out of flower. So, I’ve kind of shifted away from flower, but on some rare occasions I now use flower. I like to mix kief with flower to give a broader spectrum.”
Montel explains how he’s not only found cannabis benefits his MS, but he’s found benefits in the gym, in addition to restful recovery after training sessions. “I definitely, for close to 20 years, I have used cannabis before workouts. Number one, I think some of the relief I’ve gotten out of it is there’s less joint pain and less amount of post-workout tension. So, it’s an easier way to relax and calm down. I also use it for sleep.”
Although he consumes cannabis for many beneficial reasons, he explains how it can be considered a powerful tool in the toolbox for health. “I think that no one should look at cannabis as if it is the end to all. It’s just like when we go to war, a war uses multiple branches of the service, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps. We fill our quiver of weaponry with every weapon we can utilize to the best advantage for whatever it is that we’re trying to overcome. Cannabis is just another arrow in that quiver. It’s another weapon in the arsenal that should be looked at being used and respected, when it actually has an effect that is giving people relief.” After Montel’s diagnosis, he has researched extensively other ways to help fight against MS and found that cannabis isn’t the only plant medicine that could help. “I tried my best to seek out a diet that was more filled with anti-inflammatory foods. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and try to reduce my intake of processed foods.” Food is medicine and many fruits and vegetables provide other health benefits in addition to their anti-inflammatory properties.
In the last three years, everything has changed. But before that, people really looked at it like a joke, Oh, yeah right. You use it for medicine.
Montel Williams was one of the first people to step out back in 2001 and openly discuss his cannabis use as it related MS. “People thought I was crazy for having even acknowledged the fact that I was doing so [using cannabis], and I didn’t get the support that we have right now. In the last three years, everything has changed. But before that, people really looked at it like a joke. Oh, yeah right. You use it for ‘medicine.’ The truth of the matter is, yes, I was, I was doing exactly what the U.S. government was doing back then. Nobody was willing to discuss it. I’m glad that now the industry and attitudes in the country are starting to change, but people have to remember, 18 years ago, it was entirely different.”
One discovery that has been hypocritical to the scheduling of cannabis in the United States is the patent 6630507 that the government has held since 2003 on cannabinoids. Montel says, “When I read that the U.S. government literally gave itself a patent for research that it did that proves the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis, that changed my mind immediately. I really would suggest people take the time to pull up the U.S. patent 6630507. All you have to do is read what our government says. We believe them when it comes to so many other things, we should be believing them when it comes to the money that we’ve spent taxpayer dollars to research and come up with discoveries. Why not believe it when the government itself has a patent? If the United States government has written out specific properties that it believes cannabinoids have, and it has done so. It states unequivocally, ‘Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This newfound property makes cannabinoids useful for the treatment and prophylaxis of a wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular applications as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Non-psychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses.’ There are so many elected officials who will stand on television and lie right through their teeth, not acknowledging the fact that it was Congress and the Senate that paid for the research that came up with this.” Montel suffered a rare stroke in 2018 and is lucky to have survived. He has since undergone physical therapy recovery. There are only 13 ambulances in the U.S. equipped with certain technology to access stroke patients and one of them was only 2 blocks from where he suffered his rare form of stroke. Knowing about the neuroprotectant properties and other benefits of cannabis, he believes there may be a connection between his survival and recovery and his cannabis use.
Montel is well known for his accomplishments in the military and feels that veterans should absolutely have access to cannabis as an option. “The VA will not deny veterans their rights at the VA hospital if they actually are found to have used cannabis, but the hospitals still will not allow doctors to recommend or discuss. I think it’s absolutely absurd that we have something that is here, that we know not only works for anti-inflammation, but we have now seen studies that have come out talking about its effect over PTSD and other things. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t allow those who do so much for us to get the minimal benefits from a medication that does no harm.”
When I read that the U.S. government literally gave itself a patent for research that it did that proves the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis, that changed my mind immediately
After seeing the potential of cannabis as medicine firsthand and understanding the uses of industrial hemp, Montel knows the plant has the power to improve so many lives around the world. He continues his journey to educate the world about the plant and to share the knowledge he’s gained along his path to help others. “I have a brand of cannabis that I’ve had in the marketplace, that I intend to reintroduce in the market in the next couple of months and have been working diligently and trying my best to produce the safest and most efficacious medicine that I can.” He’s also continuing his mission to share education with those about cannabis through his podcast, Let’s Be Blunt with Montel. He interviews a wide variety of people to discuss their knowledge about cannabis, to share his message, and educate others about a plant that was so deeply ingrained in our history for centuries, until the 1930’s. “I really think that the cat is way out of the bag. I mean, we’re down the road now where the only thing that really should be being done is more research to validate the efficaciousness of this plant rather than people trying to do research to see if they can knock down the plant. They should be trying to do research to see what benefits we can get out of it and pursue ensuring that people have access to the most beneficial properties of cannabis. I think the only reason why we don’t do that is because of its impact. We’ve seen data come out recently about the fact that now, millennials and xennials seem to be gravitating more towards cannabis than they are alcohol. It’s really pissing off an entire industry that really is going to fight the fight, hook and nail. They’re going to fight as hard as they can to ensure that they can vilify this so that their industry is not hurt financially, and it’s really ridiculous. I think now people should step up to the plate and honestly support something that if you take a look back in history, the number of deaths, suicides, injuries and look at the adverse effects of alcohol on societies worldwide for thousands of years, and you take a look at the adverse effects of cannabis, you find none. No one has died from an overdose of cannabis. Recently, there has been a reported death by a person who was using cannabis that may have been fungus related, but they didn’t die because of the cannabis or cannabinoids. So why are we not trying to push more people to use a product that is less detrimental to mankind?”
I really would suggest people take the time to pull up the U.S. patent 6630507. All you have to do is read what our government says.
US Patent No. 6630507
The government of the United States is the owner of this patent for: Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectant
Abstract Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia. Nonpsychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidoil, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention. A particular disclosed class of cannabinoids useful as neuroprotective antioxidants is formula (I) wherein the R group is independently selected from the group consisting of H, CH.sub.3, and COCH.sub.3. ##STR1##
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Cannabis Justice is Racial Justice
Last Prisoner Project
“Ever since Harry Anslinger implemented [cannabis prohibition] in the United States, it’s main purpose has been a method of racial control by white people over communities of color and that continues to this day. We will not have racial justice in this country without cannabis justice and vice versa,” says Steve DeAngelo, the Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry.
GRAM spoke with Steve, the founder of Last Prisoner Project. He shared with us the mission and programs that drives Last Prisoner Project, as well as the stories of two specific men they are working to help.
“Michael Thompson is in the 26th year of a 40-60 sentence for selling three lbs. of cannabis to an informant in 1994. After he was arrested, the cops went to Michael’s residence which he shared with his mother and his wife. And they went into a locked gun cabinet, they opened the cabinet and found some antique rifles that had belonged to Michael’s father. On those grounds, they said it was a gun crime, and because Michael had a couple of other minor offenses that had happened during this very intense street enforcement on the ground in the 1990’s in Flint, MI. Now he’s 68 years old; he has pre-existing medical conditions that make him more vulnerable to COVID, and COVID is present in the prison he’s incarcerated in. So we are desperately concerned that Michael is going to get COVID and potentially die, and his already outrageous sentence turns into a death sentence. There are two petitions on Governor Whitmer’s desk for his release right now. One is a compassionate release for COVID; one is a clemency request; those requests for release have been endorsed by the Flint Prosecutor’s Office which is the office that originally prosecuted Michael (that’s something that never ever happens), but Governor Whitmer continues to sit on Michael’s petition; each day exposing him to a possible death sentence,” Steve continues. “There’s dozens and dozens of other cannabis prisoners who are facing similarly long sentences on equally bogus charges.”
The reality of it is it’s not our constituents who are the criminals. The real criminals are the people who passed these laws and enforce these laws.
Steve says, “Our position is that nobody anywhere in the world ever deserved to be arrested for cannabis charges and that nobody ever deserved to be in prison on cannabis charges. We don’t care what the amount was; we really don’t care what the “complicating factors” were. The reality of it is it’s not our constituents who are the criminals. The real criminals are the people who passed these laws and enforce these laws.”
Corvain Cooper is serving a federal sentence of life without parole in Louisiana for a cannabis conviction because he had two minor charges on his record in the state of California that at one time qualified him for the three strikes law, but since he earned those convictions, the law has been revised, and the crimes that he was convicted for are no longer crimes that make you eligible for three strikes. “Yet, Corvain faces spending the rest of his life in prison when it’s really obvious that that is a grossly unjust thing,” says Steve.
Steve says, “Last Prisoner Project has a very single-minded mission, a very singular focus quite deliberately. There’s a lot of organizations who are working on cannabis reform in general, on legislation, who are working on equity and racial justice issues specifically. Our focus is even more narrow. We just want to make sure that every single cannabis prisoner on planet Earth comes home to their families and is given the resources they need to build the lives that were stolen from them. We are interested in further reform, we’re interested in legislative stuff, that’s not where we put our energy, we let other organizations focus there. We just want to get prisoners out.”
Within the first year of its inception, Last Prisoner Project figured out that there are about 40,000 people in prison for cannabis convictions in the United States. They still don’t know the world-wide total. “It’s many many times the 40,000,” says Steve. “Once we had our hands around the problem, the size of it, and where it was located, then we started thinking about the most effective ways that we could get the largest number of prisoners released in the shortest period of time with the funds that were available to us.”
Last Prisoner Project has a couple of programs that achieve that objective. Steve tells us, “One of them is our clemency program which works with governor’s offices in legal cannabis states to develop a set of standard parameters that would allow the governor, at the stroke of a pen, to release hundreds or even (depending on the state) thousands of cannabis prisoners.”
There are currently about 50 people in the United States serving sentences of life without parole for cannabis convictions. “For most of them, their cases are complicated and are challenging for governors to give clemency to. So we do know that–unfortunately, in some cases–we are going to have to raise the funds that are necessary to mount a new legal defense for people who have already (in some cases) been in prison for decades. It’s a very expensive proposition to do that; it’s a very time consuming proposition to do that; it’s an absolutely necessary thing to do.”
The second program within the Last Prisoner Project is the Prison to Prosperity Pipeline. “We want to make sure that when our constituents are released that they have a support network that is sufficient to make sure that their reentry is successful,” says Steve. That involves housing, training, and finding employment. Last Prisoner Project is already serving their constituents through this program and recently hired a full time staff member to administer the program.
82% of the arrests for the war on drugs were for cannabis possession.
“We have a few different ways that we work to fund those programs. Our ‘Roll it up for justice’ program asks cannabis retailers to ask cannabis consumers to make a donation at the end of their cannabis purchase, to at least round up to the next dollar from their cannabis purchase.” Steve states that the program spreads the burden out widely across the whole cannabis community and doesn’t call on anybody too much. “We encourage cannabis retailers to participate in the program, and we encourage cannabis consumers to patronize the dispensaries that do participate in that program. In a similar vein, we have our ‘Partners for Freedom’ program. This program allows cannabis companies other than retailers (growers, manufacturers, etc.) to make a commitment to be a sustaining partner for the Last Prisoner Project, and they earn the ability to put the Last Prisoner Project logo on all the packages of all of their products. The idea being that we want cannabis consumers to have ways that they can support the companies that are supporting the community.”
“We are in a unique time in this country right now. That’s put a fresh lens on law enforcement and what’s been going on with law enforcement over the course of the last two decades in the United States. And what many people don’t realize is that stop and frisk, cops on the ground in black and brown communities harassing people has been justified and driven by cannabis prohibition. 82% of the arrests for the war on drugs were for cannabis possession.”
Learn more about Steve DeAngelo and how he earned the moniker “The Father of the Legal Cannabis Industry” in an upcoming issue of GRAM. In the meantime follow @lastprisonerproject on social media and keep up with Steve on his new podcast: Radio Free Cannabis.
Seizing The Opportunity to Educate the World
How an inner-city kid from Chicago used art + cannabis to take Denver by storm in celebration of black love, black art, + black lives.
The Black Love Mural Festival may seem like a simple play on Black Lives Matter efforts, but it is much more than your typical mural walk. It is the evolution of years of effort on behalf of its curator, Robert Gray. Gray is more commonly known by his brand, Rob The Art Museum, a concept that came to him during some of his earliest visits to art museums in the midwest. Rob’s life journey has taken him across the country, all in the pursuit of living a life that allowed him to enjoy cannabis and give back to his local and global community.
Who is Rob The Art Museum?
Robert Gray, founder and curator of Rob The Art Museum, is originally from Chicago, Illinois. When he was in his early teens, he moved to Milwaukee. “I’m from Chicago, but I claim that I’m from Milwaukee, because that’s where a lot of my friends were when I grew up as a teenager,” Rob explains. It’s also where Rob was first introduced to contemporary and fine art, thanks to a newly built art museum, the same one that was featured in the Transformers movie series.
“Milwaukee is really where I got into art. That’s where a lot of it started. I would try to get away from the city, running around, doing shit I wasn’t supposed to, and it was when they first built the art museum…it was this big beautiful white art museum that looked like a boat right off the lake. So when they built it, I was like ‘this looks cool, let me go try it.’”
Not only did he notice the beauty of the art he was enjoying, but he also found respite in the lack of familiar faces. “Milwaukee was a small city…Like if you go to Walmart, you’re going to see someone from middle school, high school; you’re going to run into someone. So this was like the one place I never ran into someone who was from where I was from. So it was like a different scene. it was very peaceful… But I always wanted to smoke blunts and be in an art museum at the same time. And I never thought it would be possible.”
This idea would stick with him and eventually be the seed that grew into Rob The Art Museum. “It was always in the back of my head [and] that was kind of like where Rob The Art Museum started. I wanted people to have the same emotional reaction that I was having. I was having a spiritual reaction, a physical reaction, an emotional reaction when I was seeing these beautiful pieces of artwork, and it was like my first time really seeing any contemporary art…growing up in the city, we had art programs but it was like children’s art. Paint and paper. That was art, but I really never saw art like fine art growing up where I came from.”
The impression it left on him left him wanting to share those feelings with others. “So I was walking in an art museum and was like ‘Damn, I want to get this artwork out to my people who can’t afford–because it costs money to get into the art museum. If they can’t afford to get into the art museum, they definitely can’t afford anything on the walls. So how can I get this art out to the people? Rob The Art Museum. That’s kinda like where everything started. I was like ‘Oh, that’s funny. Like a double entendre with my name.’ But even then I did it like ‘I wish I could rob the art museum because I know that work is worth a lot. It doesn’t seem like they got top notch security either. I think a bank would be more difficult. Seemed like a good return on investment.’”
Chasing Promotions with No End In Sight
Rather than going through with this fantasy of robbing a museum, Rob ended up like many of us—in a job where he was simply chasing promotion after promotion. This led him from Milwaukee to Minneapolis to Kansas City. As he neared the age of 30, Rob realized his love of cannabis and his distaste for the promotional path meant he needed to reevaluate his pursuits.
“My passions were weed and art, and I was in Kansas City, and it’s an 8 hour trip [to Colorado], and I’m over here buying weed in gas stations from people who looked like they smoked weed,” Rob explains. “I didn’t have any friends out there. But I was like he looks like he smokes weed, so I’m going to ask him, ‘bro you know where the weed at?’…One day I just packed up my bags and went to Colorado and just tried to figure everything out. That was three years ago.”
The Mile High Move
When he arrived in Colorado, Rob quickly joined the legal cannabis industry, becoming a budtender, but not before a life-changing car accident would further call into question his decision to move to the mile high state. “When I first moved out here, I was staying on the couch at my brother’s house just trying to figure everything out and one day after I got done smoking like a blunt, I just went to go get food. So I jumped in the car with my friend, she was driving, and we’re going up the way and a drunk driver came out of nowhere and hit us in a head on collision. I was really shooken up…So I ended up going to the ER, and it was a traumatizing experience because I didn’t have like anyone really out here with me. Me and my brother were going through some trials and tribulations…I didn’t have any other family out here. I was in the ER emergency room thinking I was about to lose my vision. And also thinking about being paralyzed because I just got into an accident. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore…
“So, long story short…I have a disability now where like my vision isn’t there in my right eye. It’s crazy that I’m involved in art and my vision is fucked up. And I was going to City, O’ City, which is one of the partners of this festival and the accident happened like right up the street [from Civic Park/City, O’ City]… It’s funny how this has all come full circle, and that’s how I started my trip off in Denver. I was about to go home. I was like ‘Fuck this shit man. I just got in the worst car accident of my life. I don’t have a job. Like, I’m not going to be able to get a job now being injured. I don’t have insurance.’ I was just going to give it all up and go back home and figure shit out.”
After the accident, Rob began smoking cannabis with a specific medical intent. “I was on prescriptions because I was in a bad car accident, all opioids,” he recalls. “Back home, I was smoking weed because, not because it was the cool thing to do but because I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t for a medicinal purpose at that point. Maybe PTSD, but I was smoking weed just like every high school kid did. And this was the first time that I needed it to like actually relieve this pain, this unbearable pain. So it is great to be in a legal state and have legal access to it.”
Cannabis as a Career
As a budtender, Rob quickly learned the legal cannabis industry had its issues with race. He says it was a great experience as far as learning, but the work culture was toxic, comparing it to working as a cashier at a bad McDonald’s. “I got called the N Word by someone my first time working there. So it was like fuck, this shit’s shitty. There’s racism everywhere. But I just rode it out. I addressed it with corporate, and they handled it how I expected so that was nice. But budtending wasn’t for me.”
While corporate worked to fix internal issues, Rob found an opportunity selling concentrates for another company, Craft Concentrates. He recalls the experience being novel, giving he was selling weed on the phone legally, but it was a cold-calling effort and was hard to get accounts that weren’t already carrying the product, something he likens to selling cars. During his time with Craft, he was also doing humanitarian work on the side like park cleanups and feeding the homeless in places like Denver’s RiNO art district, which gave him a positive way to give back and an alternative focus to cold calls.
“My mom always told me that it’s important that you give back. And I feel like inside, if you’re taking from a community, you should give back to that community.” One day, Craft was going to move offices and throw away all of the food in the refrigerator. Rob asked if he could have it. Knowing he was a vegan, they questioned what he would do with all of the meats and dairy products, and he told them he planned to cook it and make meals for the homeless with it. After that, they started to take note of his efforts, making him Head of the Communications department, with the entire focus of giving back to the community.
While this new opportunity was progressive for the cannabis industry, differing views on what “giving back to the community” actually meant, would lead Rob to end that chapter and, as he describes it, “circle back to smoking blunts in the art museum.” His pop up art shows were beginning to take off.
Pop Up Art Shows
The Rob the Art Museum pop up art show is a cannabis-friendly, art event with vegan-friendly foods highlighted, non mainstream, undiscovered and underrepresented artists. It started a wave that would eventually take the efforts nationwide.
“Now that I had a decent job [with Craft] that could fund my crazy ideas that I had, I used that money to rent an AirBnB because I wanted to make a cannabis-friendly art museum, and I couldn’t do that with the Denver Art Museum. So I rented out an AirBnB. It was four stories, had six different bed rooms, and I curated each room to be like a different theme.” Rob recalls approaching as many artists as possible on their Instagrams, only hearing back from about one in ten. They had a bunch of vegan food, good legal cannabis to enjoy, and he invited as many people as possible to see all of the art that he’d hung throughout the house. “We lost money the first time, but it was fun. People came out, and it was fun. I was like ‘I’m going to keep doing it.’”
His friends could not believe he was going to do it again, taking all the time and money to coordinate the event. But Rob valued being top of mind regularly with the audience. “Consistency is key; I knew we had to keep doing it so that people would take it seriously,” reiterating that it wasn’t a “one off” event due to its somewhat random and unprecedented nature.
Eventually, Rob ended up throwing one of the larger afterparties at the Indo Expo 2019 in Denver, inviting cannabis influencers to an art, cannabis, and smoke-friendly affair with good vegan food and good vibes. The next month, he repeated the event for his birthday party, telling his friends to come out and smoke with him since the AirBnB owner was allowing him to use the property. By March, they were actually focusing on art curation as the focal point of the event and starting to make a few hundred bucks each time.
4/20, Private Events, & High Times
With April came the annual celebration plans for 4/20, and Rob’s intention to use the AirBnB came to a halt when he received a letter ordering him to cease and desist because the owner had listed the location’s address publicly. The event had to be private to allow consumption according to Colorado law, and Rob was forced to make very public statements that the event was cancelled. For those in the know, the event still went on, but in a much more private manner.
After this issue due to a technicality, Rob was invited to throw pop up events under his moniker around the country at High Times events. He traveled to Detroit, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a variety of large metro areas, setting up his museum and spreading the brand nationally. Denver may have taken a backseat, but as he became more introduced to the art scene and the people within, a chance encounter at a Denver Dispensary would be the seed that became the Black Love Mural Festival months later.
Black Love Mural Festival (BLMF)
After efforts with High Times came to a close, the transition to Rob upping his art efforts in the festival scene was an almost seamless transition. He met Annie, the owner of IRL Art, and they exchanged contact information when he learned she worked with Meow Wolf. They did big festival installations at Far Out Factory, Sonic Bloom, Arise, Gem and Jam, and similar events. Rob eventually secured a spot working with her in October 2019, and became CMO of IRL Art in February.
“Black Love Mural Festival started with being in festivals with [Annie],” Rob explains. “These are all her walls that we bought,” motioning to the black plywood board structures around civic park that were constructed in mere hours. Originally, the idea for the festival had stemmed from a park cleanup effort. One of Rob’s friends knew he was involved in park cleanups and asked for some help overseeing efforts to clean up after protests in Denver. During the cleanup, Rob invited a local artist to live paint a mural to help lighten the mood, and the idea to create walls that could be painted on while also protecting local landmarks came to fruition, initially dubbed “Protect The Park.”
“I didn’t know this was possible,” Rob explains of the mobile mural walls, “to take plywood and build into portable walls and have artists come out and do these big pieces, I didn’t know it was possible.” Originally, Rob had wanted to do a large scale art installation in small scale neighborhood parks to bring the beauty and influence of art into communities that wouldn’t otherwise see it. When the opportunity to take that approach and do it in the center of Denver happened, Rob couldn’t help but seize it.
After a quick pitch to local officials and the Mayor of Denver, Rob and his business partner hammered out a proposal and secured funds for the initial effort. “I want to make sure that black people aren’t blamed for what’s happening,” explains Rob of the motivation behind the festival. “Because, no matter who does the vandalism, no matter who does the looting, it’s going to fall back on the Black Lives Matter movement because that’s what everything is focused around… I want to put a black face to the good that we are doing.”
They pitched the idea as a dual-purpose initiative: for the city, they would protect the monuments using temporary structures to help minimize damage and vandalism. For the community, they would use the walls of these structures as blank canvases to showcase the love and art of Denver’s black community. Once approved, the structures had to be built. Rain and cleanups cut into setup time, leaving them less than 48 hours to have everything set up. Then, they set about recruiting artists, offering subsidies for supplies and starting a GoFundMe with the goal of raising $10,000 to pay all 30+ artists who have since become involved. As of the end of June, they have exceeded this goal.
Asked how it is going, Rob offers a simple “Awesome.” He comments on the fact that this is the first art event he has been to—and for many of the artists participating—that was all black artists, saying normally there is that one token black person, or maybe not even a single person of color, which prevents the artists from being themselves. He’s proud they have curated artists ranging in age from nine to sixty years old, and artists walked up off the street after seeing the news coverage, wanting to get involved in a positive art community that was bettering Denver.
As with everything that has taken him this far, Rob is seizing the opportunity to educate his peers and his community at large about the beauty of black culture as well as the ways humans can be better about treating one another equally.
Opportunities & Education
When asked how he has gotten to this point in his life, and what his advice is to others regarding treating one another better, his answers are the same: Education and Opportunities. Whenever an opportunity presents itself to learn, do so. Learn about other cultures. Learn about new thoughts. Learn about personal trials and tribulations. Seize opportunities to grow, to learn, and to advance yourself and society as a whole. If you have the opportunity to lift someone else up, do so.
Specifically, Rob speaks to the burden placed on people of color by those who are well-intentioned but lazy in their efforts. Wanting to learn more about the ways your black friends or co-workers may have encountered microaggressions or outright racism is healthy and helps acknowledge and change patterns of behavior, but there is a plethora of information available for you to get background information. Walking up to a black person and asking them to simply describe their plight is both burdensome and shows a lack of effort, contrary to the intentions of the question.
Similarly, if you look around and aren’t sure of how you can better the black community, or any community, consider the tools in front of you. Rob mentions the trade of a carpenter, and asks the head carpenter to look around at his team; do you see any black faces? No, maybe try to hire some? Not finding any qualified candidates of color? Maybe create the opportunity for an apprenticeship or an internship where a candidate who is otherwise high quality could learn the craft and help to make the industry more diverse.
Rob’s main point is: there is always an opportunity to help your fellow human and to learn more about one another, and we should seize every chance we can to lift one another up, regardless of color, creed, gender, or other generalizing characteristic.
even if they don’t exist.
The Black Love Mural Festival’s permit was extended through the end of July to allow for a longer display of the art and recognition of the black community. Rob is entertaining future ideas to not only bring the festival back annually, but hopefully to expand to other cities, and to preserve many of the pieces that were created in art galleries and museums, including those dedicated to preserving black art and history.
Educate yourself. Don’t just expect to be educated.
SEE IT LIVE IN DENVER, CO UNTIL JULY 30
Make sure to check out and follow all The talented artists participating in this fantastic event.
PJ and Crystal
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