To Ben Sussman, the exterior walls of RISE Amherst were a blank canvas, presenting an opportunity to bring something special to Western Massachusetts.
A quest to find a muralist to add vibrance to the buildng became a passion project. That project is now complete, as artist Zaeos has spray-painted a mural around recreational and medical marijuana shop RISE, showcasing images of black-capped chickadees, the Massachusetts state bird, and a blue heron.
The artwork helps to present a connection between cannabis culture and art and honor both communities, said Sussman, the RISE Amherst community outreach coordinator.
“At a time in the country where everybody is so divided and there is so much strife in people’s lives with the virus and everything that’s going on, giving back to the community in kind of a different way and putting up a piece of public art that can really help people, just taking time out of their day to stop and reflect and just get a moment to look at something beautiful and feel the impact of that,” Sussman said. “Art heals, cannabis heals, just that connection that goes really deep into the cannabis community of appreciating art.”
This mural was Zaeos first project in Massachusetts.
“I’m pretty proud of it,” Zaeos said. “We basically got to experience all four seasons that Massachusetts has in one and a half weeks, two weeks … Seattle has some volatile weather but not that extreme. Not from 70 to, you know, 30s to 70 in a week.
An advocate for the decriminalization of drugs, Zaeos said he was glad to be a part of a project at a dispensary.
“I think for any company in the cannabis community, you want to represent cannabis culture,” Sussman said. “I mean, so many musicians, artists use cannabis in their own lives for their creativity beyond, you know, the medicinal value of cannabis for our patients. That’s obviously a huge part of the meaning of what we do.”
Sussman said RISE used an outside agency to help find artists. A panel of judges – including Hannah Rechtschaffen, the director of placemaking and special projects for The Mill District and WD Cowls, Gabrille Gould, the executive director of the Amherst BID and Bill Kaizen, the chairman of the Amherst Public Arts Commission, and the RISE Amherst staff – voted to select Zaeos.
RISE Amherst also made a donation to Commonwealth Murals, a non-profit organization that seeks to foster the creation of murals that will engage communities.
“Just seeing the customers reactions like as they pull in to this building that was once just kind of like a tan brick building with the RISE sign on it, now it’s just like this extremely colorful, beautiful piece of art. You can just see people connect with it,” Sussman said.
On the backdrop of falling leaves now and with the winter months coming, Sussman said he hopes customers and patients will use the mural to take a few minutes out of their day to appreciate something beautiful.