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Tommy Chong

It’s cannabis time!

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Tommy Chong is an icon who continues to lead the cannabis community. His comedic career took off in the 1970s when the legendary Cheech and Chong characters were first born and lived out in their live performances, records, and trailblazing movies like Up in Smoke. Together, the duo began leading a generation and took the cannabis counter culture movement mainstream. They shined a humorous and positive light on cannabis consumers, which shed some of the fears surrounding cannabis and its use. Chong, now 81 years old, continues his journey helping people laugh alongside his longtime comedic partner, Cheech Marin. “Now it’s cannabis time. It’s gone mainstream,” says Chong. The duo went on tour this fall and audiences saw throwbacks from their classic work and heard their thoughts on cannabis legalization as it’s rapidly growing across the world. Chong says, “Oh I’m still in love with cannabis. She’s been so good to me. I love every bit of her. She’s still my best friend. She’s my lover. She’s my angel. She’s my everything.” He first tried cannabis at age 17 and has consumed cannabis his entire life, with the exception of 3 years. He recently overcame rectal and prostate cancer and says, “As far as everything goes, I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been.” 

At the beginning of Cheech and Chong, the country was fighting the Vietnam War, which continued through 1975. Chong currently serves as an Advisory Board Member for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which was founded in 1970 by Keith Stroup. Their mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to achieve the legalization of cannabis in the United States so the responsible use by adults is no longer subject to penalty. Chong says, “It really affected life, especially during the Vietnam War. It actually helped stop it, or at least brought people’s attention to it. I’ve always said marijuana will save the world, and I’m right.”

He became a leader during the 1970s and continues to advocate through comedy. Out of everything he’s accomplished he says he’s most proud to be, “Working with my family. My wife, Shelby, is my partner on stage and as a wife. When Cheech and I broke up she stepped in and she became my partner. That’s one of the proudest things that ever happened to me, because it’s very rare. So, my proudest accomplishment is being on stage with my wife every night. I’m very proud of that.” He continues working with his family and is starring in a new television show called, Tommy Chong’s Pipe Dreams. He feels the show is changing a lot of things and is among the most unforgettable shows of our time. Shelby stars on the show alongside him. Shelby doesn’t smoke cannabis and never did, but she does use edibles. “She loves her gummy bears and chocolates and has her own private stash that I better not go near. She also likes topicals and she’s planning on launching a line of her own marijuana based creams.” He’s excited for the future and says, “I just scratched the surface of my comedy, even though I’ve done all the movies. There was never a one and done, one always led to another. So the new show is a game changer for everybody that sees it. My aim is to reassure people that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Every one of us. There’s no one that’s out of place. If you feel uneasy about where you’re at. That’s a good sign. If you feel comfortable where you’re at that’s also a good sign. What it means is that we’re all alive and we’re experiencing it.”

In reference to the rise of cannabis use in seniors, Chong tells us, “We all have aches and pains and we all need to sleep and eat. Cannabis helps with all those areas. We all need to be healthy and we all need to forget our problems. So it just works perfectly for seniors.” For others interested in using cannabis, he recommends edibles at bedtime. “If they have pain they can use marijuana salve, which is also good for sleeping. You can put it on your head or the back of your neck and it works really well. If they’re smokers, they can smoke a joint or a bowl. I wouldn’t recommend dabbing right away. When you smoke you put your ‘worry brain’ on vacation. That’s what you want to do. You forget bad habits and that’s what it helps you do. I quit smoking because every time I felt like a cigarette I would light a joint and I would take a couple of tokes and I’d be fine. When I felt like a cigarette again. I’d light it up again. It took a year before the nicotine got out of my system, but I quit smoking with the help of cannabis.”

The plant continues to help Chong daily, and he smokes live with his fans on his Tommy Chong App once a day. He says, “Now you go to any dispensary, and it looks like a lineup to see Jesus to get healed. They’re on their crutches or on their canes. There’s MS patients and people with mental problems. There’s people with epilepsy and all those people with neurological problems. They need the cannabis. And it’s not a joke. It’s very serious to these people.” In addition to advocating for legal cannabis use for others, Chong knows the value hemp brings to the world. “We wouldn’t have all these plastic problems we have now had we kept hemp, because it made the best paper. Anything could be wrapped in hemp paper and it doesn’t hurt the environment. Hemp can also be used like plastic. Henry Ford made a car and the body of the car was made out of hemp and it ran with hemp oil.” He says having hemp in the supply line was beneficial, but they broke the chain and now we’re going through the climate crisis because of the fossil fuel industry and paying the price for it now.

I’ve always said marijuana will save the world, and I’m right.

Looking back on his life, some of the best advice he should’ve taken, but didn’t, was the warning he received in 2003. “We got the warning, but I figured, nah, they aren’t going to bust you for making bongs. But they did.” Chong spent 9 months in jail and says he really enjoyed his time there and learned a lot. This was during the time he was required to quit smoking cannabis for around 3 years. While serving his time in jail, he was often offered free cannabis. “They tried to bust me. They had snitches offer me free weed, and I turned it down each time. After each time, they drug tested me right afterwards. I would have been doing more time in jail had I fell for it, but I resisted.”

Chong has decades of cannabis experience and launched his own line of cannabis in 2016. “Cannabis works on the brain with our receptors. Cannabis and humans have a lot in common. Cannabis really reminds us constantly of who we are and slows the brain down and makes us appreciate life.” During his time consuming cannabis, one of the most surprising locations he’s ever smoked was at George Bush Sr and Junior’s house in Midland, Texas. He’s also smoked a joint on top of the empire state building. If he could introduce one person to cannabis, it would be Melania Trump. “I think she needs it.” He also fondly remembers smoking with George Harrison of the Beatles. “He was the only one of the Beatles I got to know personally. He played the guitar on one of our Cheech and Chong Basketball Jones. George played the introduction to it. I almost got high with John, but he was worried about his immigration status. Ringo was a recovering alcoholic. I haven’t got high with Paul yet. That’s on my bucket list, to get high with Paul.” Chong has a long list of memorable people he’s smoked with, “Cheech and I played basketball, and we smoked up with Bob Dylan.”

Throughout his life, one of the people who inspired him is Moses. He used to think it was Jesus, but his life was cut short. “Moses made it to the end. He was the one the burning bush talked to. Moses is my inspiration because he was raised in a royal family and he was taught all the secrets of the Pharaohs, and then he led his people out of bondage into freedom.” Chong says he’s a student of the Bible, both the old and new testaments. “The secrets are all there. I’ve been shown the proper way to interpret the bible and it has gotten me to where I am today. I went to Bible camp when I was 8 years old. I learned how to pray and that’s very important. Prayer is much like meditation. You’re really talking to yourself. That’s why you eliminate the thought of a far away God or some kind of god you can deal with. Like, hey God, you do this and I will do that. There is no such thing, it’s just you. I realized that early in life when I was very young and therefore I found the path to success and I’m still on it and I still will be on it. Part of the knowledge I gained was to forgive and let people live their own lives. As they say in yoga, stay on your own towel. That’s what I’ve done all my life, and I’ll continue to.”

It took a year before the nicotine got out of my system, but I quit smoking with the help of cannabis.

Part of Chong’s success comes from his superpower. “I have a superpower. I do, and I know it. The superpower really is keeping your mouth shut. That’s the superpower. That’s the hardest thing in the world to do, you know, because you can’t tell a spoiler for a movie. I have a bad habit. I see a movie and I want to tell everybody all about the movie. My son tells me, ‘Shut up Dad. Don’t tell me anything.’ That’s what life’s all about. My superpower is knowing that everybody’s on their own path. Everybody’s on their own journey and the best you can do is encourage them and help them when you can, but the best thing is to keep your mouth shut. That’s my superpower. Knowing that. Also knowing that you can’t help people. You know people have to struggle through life. Unless they ask you, but people have to learn the lesson, whatever the lesson may be. You’ve got to remember that we are eternal beings. We’re not just here the one time and then we’re gone forever. Nothing ever leaves this earth. Every drop of water that was here in the beginning is still in one form or another. We’re 90% water. We’ve always been here. We’re just like a thought in a mind of a god. That’s exactly what we are. All of us are just one thought. One grain of sand, each of us. Knowing that and then knowing you can’t give other people your experience. They have to experience everything themselves. It’s so maddening sometimes. But it all works out.” 

What we have to do is try to help the other person. That’s your only job on Earth is to help others.

Chong recalls his Bible studies and shares, “There’s all good, there’s nothing bad. The Bible says everything that God made was good and everything that God did not make was not made. You see, everything else is an illusion. You can’t have positive without negative when you live in a physical world. You’re going to have both. You’re going to have good and bad. Each experience that we go through is exactly that, it’s experience. And you know how they always say you only learn from your mistakes? Well, for instance, if you’re perfect like say Jesus was, because Jesus never made a mistake. Everybody else did. But Jesus could never make a mistake, because he was only here to show us what it’s like to be godlike on Earth. And that’s what he did. When it was time for him to go, he had to leave. He said something like, ‘If I do not go, the comforter will not come to you.’ In other words, if you keep looking to me for all your goodness, then you’re not going to be able. We are all gods, basically, but we’re all here to learn and learn what it’s like to be whatever everybody’s going through. We’re all going to experience it because eternity gives us the ability to go through every possible physical change that you could think of on this planet. Then, when that’s done, there’ll be another and another and another; it never ends. The only thing there is an ending to is our knowledge. A lot of us are limited. We are only shown so much and then we have to figure everything out ourselves. That’s the way it is with life. This is very advanced teaching by the way. There is no such thing as good or bad. There just is. And when you realize it like I do, then you do what you gotta do. You shut the fuck up and let everybody figure it out for themselves, because everybody will and can.”

Experience and figuring things out himself have clearly helped shape and define Chong’s career, and outlook on life. Another big influence in his life is obviously cannabis. He has love for the plant and believes in its ability to inspire others. “Cannabis inspired Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and they changed our world.” The movement isn’t just about cannabis, it’s other plant medicine and expanding knowledge. Chong even says cannabis legalization is leading the way for other psychedelic plant medicines and has been for decades. He isn’t finished and has a goal to be on stage a lot longer. “I’m 81. George Burns said he wanted to be on stage doing standup when he was 100. I want to get on stage and say, ‘Hey George, I beat you.” 

After he and Cheech took the stage for their comedy tour across the US and Canada in 2019, he’s already working towards that goal! More than just a comedian, we’re honored to share Chong’s knowledge and insight while he continues to lead a movement for freedom through comedy. Chong may have became an inspirational leader through his legendary comedy long ago, but he still continues to lead in advocating for the plant and making people laugh along the way. “What we have to do is try to help the other person. That’s your only job on Earth is to help others.”

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Join Us Virtually

@ The Whole Plant Expo October 1st, 2020

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JOIN GRAM & 120+ MEDICAL CANNABIS INDUSTRY ALL-STARS

Whole Plant Expo is a groundbreaking, all-online event with seven digital expo halls, live networking and seven conference programs packed with more than 120 expert speakers. Featuring the top researchers, medical practitioners, academics, policymakers and business leaders, there is no better way to learn and connect.

Exclusively Online Starting Oct 1, 2020


CLICK HERE FOR DISCOUNTED TIX

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Cannabis Justice is Racial Justice

Last Prisoner Project

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“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.


This Nov. 2, 2017 photo released by the Michigan Department of Corrections shows Michael Thompson, who is incarcerated at the Muskegon, Mich., Correctional Facility. (Photo: Michigan Department of Corrections via Associated Press)

“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.

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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.

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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. 

Create opportunities
for others,
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. 

Until then:
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.

@sky_welkin

@plantladyproduction

@stephen_the_painter

@themuseumforblackgirls

@fa_eazy

@flowergirlcreative

@vibrant.love.artistry

@lindeezimmer

@VincentGordon

@toluwaob/@draunimoli

@tukeone

@key_air

@foliarian

@adore_regine

@visualgoodies

@Mi_moegram

@goodlooksvol.1

@bannedesign

@JavonTheUnique

@bakemono0504

@we_must_grow

@hieroveiga

@izaexvim

@keishamarieco

@liobumba

@ds3productions_art

PJ and Crystal

@keishapaintnjoint

@selah.v.art

@curatedbycharlie

@iishieii

Xavier Roscoe

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