Gallery exploring the art of cannabis

The Penticton Art Gallery is exploring the art of cannabis with its upcoming exhibition Grassland.

The upcoming Grassland exhibition, exploring the impact of marijuana on our culture, is something that has been percolating in Penticton Art Gallery curator Paul Crawford’s head for a long time.

It’s an idea which was sparked around 10 years ago when Crawford was working at the Grand Forks Art Gallery and the marijuana industry caught his attention.

“There I was always amazed. I moved to Grand Forks and there, within a day, without actually asking anybody I had already been sort of told if I wanted to get pot in town who to go to. I thought, that’s pretty interesting, do I look like a stoner or something? It was just kind of one of those funny things I thought was really weird,” Crawford said.

Ruminating on the idea for some time, Crawford is now bringing Grassland to the Penticton Art Gallery for their March opening. It may very well be the first public gallery showing in Canada focused around marijuana.

Cannabis-infused art can mean a lot of things, but Crawford is looking for a different take as well as an exploration of the cultural and societal affects of the plant.

There is currently a public call for submissions and artists working in all media can submit up to four works for consideration by emailing images, along with the type of media and dimensions of each work by Friday, March 3. Submit to curator@pentictonartgallery.com.

Some pieces are coming in from New York, Germany and California including two works by American mosaic portrait artist Jason Mecier. He has created portraits of actor Kevin Bacon out of actual bacon, rap artist Snoop Dogg out of rolling papers and more.

Crawford has also secured some works by Patrick “Redbeard” Vrolyk, who runs a festival (the Great Canadian Glass Gathering) and creates glass blowing-based work.

“The front gallery space will be focused solely on his work and the collaborations he’s done with other glass blowers. Taking a simple bong or pipe and turning it into a work of art with moving parts and all kinds of amazing things,” Crawford said.

The gallery has received some works by national political cartoonists too. Pieces featured in The Globe and Mail and U.S. publications.

Drugs and drug policy can be a touchy issue for some, something Crawford doesn’t want to shy away from as a public gallery.

“More and more I feel as a public art gallery it is our job to address current and social issues that are affecting our community,” Crawford said. “With the impending legalization possibility, it just seemed like the right time. I don’t know if it makes it mainstream or what it does, but it puts it in a different environment where the average person who’s on the fence about it may not otherwise engage with it.”

Crawford is pro-cannabis, but he is not blind to the existent negative aspects.

“I’ve had friends that suffered from schizophrenia and various other mental disorders and the worst thing they can do is smoke a joint,” Crawford said. “One friend of mine committed suicide with all the stuff going on in his head. I know marijuana wasn’t the cause, and that stuff would have come about at some point, but it was a triggering mechanism for him that set it off.”

He hopes to have input from both pro- and anti-marijuana stances, while also exploring the issue locally with workshops and speakers.

“We need to revisit our drug policies in Canada in general. If this can be a small, token way to sort of open that door to some sort of conversation that would be great. I look at our community and I know there’s a bunch of controversy about people opening up dispensaries here in town,” Crawford said.

Crawford is aiming for weekly programing during the exhibition, with opportunities currently open for speakers to discuss topics ranging from mental health and cannabis to policing. Crawford said he was open to having someone from the City of Penticton or a city councillor talk about the subject at the local level of governance.

There is an opportunity to engage in sponsorship of the exhibition, with proceeds going to the gallery. The bumper-sized panels can be bought for $100, or make a bigger presence with six spots for $420. As a fundraiser for the gallery, Crawford hopes the sponsorship will help pay for parts of the exhibition, but it is also an exploration in the widespread economic impact of the marijuana industry.

He hopes by the end, it will be less of a sponsor wall and more of an installation to accompany the exhibition.

Grassland has an Alice in Wonderland-themed opening party on March 17. By March 24 the full exhibition will be on display, running through May 14.

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