Before cannabis companies began commissioning work from artists for their packaging and other products, they hired them to create art on their stores. At first this was a way to announce the newly legal industry; later it became a way for stores to set themselves apart with increasingly intricate pieces.
As Colorado’s street-art scene continues to grow, more and more cannabis companies are splashing murals across dispensary buildings. Diego Pellicer, Silver Stem Fine Cannabis, Canna City, Berkeley Dispensary, Higher Grade and the Green Solution are just a few of the enterprises that have commissioned artists to paint unique and attention-grabbing murals on their dispensary locations.
Last fall, two Denver artists painted a new mural on the side of Higher Grade’s dispensary at 1269 Elati Street, depicting a fantasy landscape with tropical trees set in front of snowcapped mountains, distant pine forests and neat rows of agricultural fields. The building had previously held two other cannabis dispensaries — Advanced Medical Alternatives and Damian Marley’s Stony Hill — and by the time Higher Grade moved in, a portrait of Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller by Zehb One had been on the wall for several years, according to Higher Grade brand manager Brittany Brewer.
“Basically, we inherited the building with the Super Bowl Von Miller mural on the side and didn’t necessarily love it, and wanted to switch it up,” she explains. “We just wanted something that was going to lift up the neighborhood and make it really warm, inviting and exciting.”
The dispensary contacted Robert Gray, curator of Rob the Art Museum, to connect it with local artists who could paint a new mural. Gray had commissioned murals for dispensaries before, and was well connected in both Denver’s street-art scene and its marijuana industry. Rob the Art Museum emphasizes the importance of murals in making the visual arts accessible and more diverse by taking fine art out of museums and putting it on the streets. After working with Higher Grade to craft the mural concept, Gray contacted Chad Bolsinger and TukeOne to paint it.
“When I first reached out to them, I was like, ‘What is Higher Grade about? What does that mean?’” he remembers. “The way I took it was, ‘How can I get a higher grade of life? What in life makes you have a higher mentality, a higher spirituality?’ — that sort of thing.”
The mountains, waterfall, agricultural fields and leafy rainforest trees are meant to bring viewers to that elevated state of being, Gray explains: “I just found it to be a very soothing and therapeutic place, and that’s the reason I requested all the earthy wholeness and natural holistic-feeling types of things in there.”
Higher Grade is happy with the new look on the old brick wall. “We absolutely love it. It’s everything we hoped for and more,” Brewer says. “It’s just a good vibe, and it’s super bright. I actually feel like it makes our building feel bigger and taller, and it’s just really beautiful.”
One of Colorado’s largest dispensary chains, the Green Solution, had commissioned a piece for the walls of its dispensary at 10195 East Montview Boulevard in Aurora earlier in the year. The colorful, geometric mural by local favorite Pat Milbery debuted on May 16, 2020; it was the first outdoor mural at any of the Green Solution’s 21 locations. But it won’t be the last.
“We had the Montview space in Aurora for a few years before we actually moved in,” explains Green Solution CEO Steve Lopez. “The neighborhood is a little bit older, and so we thought, ‘Why don’t we help brighten it up a bit?’”
Milbery’s long list of clients includes everyone from the City of Denver to national beer companies Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon, Boulder’s Fox Theatre, stoner favorite Cheba Hut and pot lifestyle brand Lightly Toasted. For the Green Solution piece, he was tasked with creating a mural that would be rooted in the surrounding neighborhood of Central Park, so he pulled in elements ranging from the former Stapleton International Airport to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.
Now, on the side of the old brick building facing the parking lot, there’s a great-horned owl set in front of a geometric landscape of snowy peaks and pine trees. At the top corners of the mural, two planes fly into the distance out of the long-defunct but still iconic Stapleton International Airport control tower.
When pot prohibition ended in Colorado, many companies used community outreach to combat any stigma around the newly legal marijuana industry. But since then, Lopez says, investment in local communities — such as commissioning the East Montview Boulevard mural — has become a hallmark of Green Solution locations. “When you open up in a neighborhood, you really feel like you’re part of the community, and you want to be a good steward,” he explains.
Pulling local landmarks into the mural design helps engage the neighborhood, he adds: “What I like about it, and what I think the community likes about it, is that somebody local is expressing their feelings about the community through art. It celebrates the Stapleton area, both the history of the neighborhood as well as where it’s going.”
So far, the surrounding neighborhood has been overwhelmingly supportive of the mural, Lopez says, with customers and non-customers alike taking photos of it. “We still have people who stop by who are not connoisseurs of our product but just want to let us know that they appreciate the piece,” he says.
The Green Solution now plans to commission a mural at its Wewatta Street location in Denver’s Ballpark district.
“After the feedback we got about the Montview location — that it really made an impact — we want to continue to make that impact.” Lopez says. “These are not cheap commissions, but after seeing the result, every penny was worth it.”
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