June 30, 2023

Dream Team of Artists Turned a Dispensary Into the Meow Wolf of Marijuana

THOMAS MITCHELL JUNE 29, 2023 10:41AM

Spark Dispensary enlisted over twenty artists to work on the new store, including Birdcap, who painted part of the west wall.

Spark Dispensary enlisted over twenty artists to work on the new store, including Birdcap, who painted part of the west wall. Thomas Mitchell

Ruben Cabrera, better known by his artist moniker of Rubezilla, has painted murals for nearly twenty dispensaries around Colorado. It's fun, steady work, Cabrera says, and the store walls provide him with large canvases.

When Spark Dispensary decided to upgrade its retail space and move next door into 4799 Colorado Boulevard, general manager Dan Holom thought Cabrera was a natural choice to work on the new store. The Denver artist was interested, but thought he saw an opportunity to do more than a mural.

What the two parties eventually settled on was a playground for Denver's art space that stretches from the inside of the dispensary to the area around it.

Locally and nationally renowned street artists like NychosChris HavenDetour, Birdcap, Shane Huss, Casey Kawaguchi, Hiero Veiga and Marissa Napoletano are just some of the people whom Cabrera persuaded to paint on Spark's walls, rooftop and awnings. Cabrera didn't stop there, though. He also convinced SMiLE to create animal-focused stencil art and got painted vases for the interior from Joshua Genius, as well as collages from art duo Grantedly Cordial and indoor graphic projections from Actualize Visuals. And, of course, Rubezilla's work is represented, too.

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300-style collaboration from Spark artists. 

Thomas Mitchell

"The paint days just turned into sessions. It really turned into a collaboration of Denver's art scene," Cabrera says. "The goal here was turning this place into an art museum. These are more than regular murals, though. These are AR-activated."

Paintings on Spark's outdoor walls and several indoor installations have QR codes and marked spots where visitors should stand to look at augmented-reality versions of the artists' work, which can involve anything from changing colors and patterns to new details and characteristics on murals. Artist collaborations are easy to find throughout the property, including a long retaining wall that echoes the Spartan movie 300.

SMiLE's stencils and animal art can be found outside, on the west side of the building. 

Thomas Mitchell

Upon walking into the dispensary, customers see an oil painting on the ceiling by Chelsea Lewinsky — "we wanted to make it like the Sistine Chapel, and she nailed it," Cabrera says — as well as a "virtual-reality corner" for selfies and photos, an old gutted Macintosh computer filled with a Lego diorama, and a history of cannabis laws in the United States on the wall under a customer-service desk.

"There's street art, there's fine art, and there's a lot of other stuff. These are all artists I've followed and been inspired by during my career," he continues. "Their response was great, too. For people who didn't get their own wall, we kind of just left it up to them and the homies."

A LEGO diorama is just one of several indoor art instillations. 

Thomas Mitchell

Spark co-owner Joseph Gira was excited to create a Meow Wolf-like marijuana store, but paying a fair rate for so many artists — some of whom rarely exhibit their work, according to Cabrera — took a decent amount of money. To help foot the bill, Holom and Spark connected Cabrera and the artists with Colorado cannabis brands like 710 Labs, Artsy and Veritas Fine Cannabis, which sponsored various pieces around the dispensary.

"We've done murals before, but we wanted to do something different. The best part is, you don't have to be 21 to see a lot of the work that is outside of the dispensary," says Spark marketing consultant Robert Folse, who helped coordinate the installations and buildout.

On top of being a "summer camp for artists" and giving him an excuse to watch 300 again, Cabrera hopes the dispensary's installations will help sell artists' merchandise. The store has retail space set aside for T-shirts and other gear made by Spark creators, and he and Folse plan to have live-painting sessions at the store.

Although most of the art at Spark was completed in April, it's only "about 80 percent done," Cabrera says, and updates are always a possibility.

Find a video tour of Spark Dispensary below.
https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cs6gkRLAoqP/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=14&wp=758&rd=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.westword.com&rp=%2Fmarijuana%2Fdenver-artists-turned-spark-dispensary-into-the-meow-wolf-of-marijuana-17088065#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A1010.5%2C%22ls%22%3A95.60000000149012%2C%22le%22%3A875.5%7D

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THOMAS MITCHELL has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.

CONTACT: Thomas Mitchell

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