High Art: How the Creative World is Helping Legal Weed Rebrand Itself

Article by The Guardian

It’s July 2016. At Los Angeles art gallery Blum and Poe – the same venue that hosted Kanye West’s Famous sculpture – the air tingles with the sweet smoke of cognac-brined hotdogs and marijuana. Reggae plays on the patio, and the sprinkling of guests seems outnumbered by the security guards hulking against the dusk.

In a small back gallery hangs a lineup of 16 framed issues of High Times – the world’s foremost weed-focused publication – pulled from the archive by artist Richard Prince. Across the room, two employees from the high-end medical marijuana growers, Nameless Genetics, pack souvenir joints of their latest product, a boutique strain of weed called John Dogg, bred in the Prince’s honor and named after his alter ego. Go big on terps – AKA terpenes, the aromatic hydrocarbons that give marijuana its flavor – and John Dogg is the result. It’s an interesting mix: Blum and Poe; counterculture stalwart High Times; nu-age grower Nameless Genetics, and Prince. And it’s a meeting of the minds concocted by self-described “creative cannabis agency” Green Street.

Among the many ganjapreneurs looking to cash in on legal weed, Green Street has an unusually cultivated pitch. “I saw an opportunity to come into an industry and really create some great visual moments with artists and brands,” says creative director Darren Romanelli, who has collected contemporary art for around a decade. Romanelli, aka DRx, who also runs ad firm StreetVirus, is a marketing veteran, with clients from Coca-Cola to the Grateful Dead. Cross-pollinations with designers and visual artists have always been his specialty. A few years ago, during a campaign for vape brand Grenco Science (makers of the G-Pen), the path became clear.

“We noticed that there wasn’t a lot of great branding and great packaging,” he says, “and a lot of the imagery and artwork … felt a little lowbrow.” Romanelli and three others co-founded Green Street in 2013 to provide an option for those who wanted something different. “We wanted to bring some professionalism into what felt like an otherwise unprofessional space – very much the wild west.”

Green Street keeps offices in the penthouse of the historic art deco Wilshire Tower. Up the stairs, past an open-air kitchen where the firm hosts private release events – “activations,” in their argot – is a rooftop lounge surveying mid Los Angeles. The north parapet is tipped by a flagpole, which has become, in Green Street fashion, an occasion for artist projects. During the opening of a permanent installation by Kenny Scharf – a concrete hallway painted white, rigged with blacklights, and curlicued with the artist’s signature bug-eyed blobs and galaxies – they hoisted a flag Scharf made back in 1988: a druggy, grinning compass rose.

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