Artist, activist and community builder Trew Love believes that confronting some of the most vexing issues in our world should involve art, community, and layers of sweetness and fun. A primary element of the success of cannabis reform has been an increase in awareness of some of the systemic, communal and individual issues that exist as a result of cannabis prohibition and the Drug War. While there are, and should be, opportunities to enjoy the success of the movement, many of us are aware that there is still much work to be done to restore a baseline of justice and accountability to the American system. Topics like mass incarceration and systemic racism, which still affect too many cannabis users, are not generally enjoyable topics to confront in every setting. Trew (@trewlove) is establishing creative platforms that break through the social and educational barriers that often stifle important conversations about difficult topics.
Based in Los Angeles, where she has lived since moving from Kansas in 2010, Trew Love has been artistically inclined and encouraged since earliest youth. “My mom is an art teacher so she started nurturing my artistic abilities at a very young age and I was able to really develop my craft.” A late bloomer when it comes to weed, she didn’t fully embrace the benefits and LA tradition of lighting up until 2014. “I got into smoking weed with my boyfriend at the time. He was a daily smoker so it became a part of my routine as well.” Her creative inspiration didn’t really start clicking, however, until she began combining her artistic ability with the political and social landscape around her. “It wasn’t until I got into activism that I really felt that I had something to say to the world.”
Her course, personally and creatively, was fundamentally reoriented as she followed the battle at Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota in 2016. When the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) planned to run oil lines that threatened the water supply of over 17 million people, a protest movement began, led primarily by Standing Rock Sioux and other area native teenagers and elders. The protest spread, with the viral hashtag #NoDAPL and rallying cry of ‘Mni Wiconi/Water is Life’ eventually reaching the United Nations and President Obama, who eventually halted construction after public outrage over police violence and brutality towards protestors. Though President Trump almost immediately reversed that decision after taking office, and construction was completed in 2017, the Standing Rock movement’s success changed local and national conversations and activist tactics, including for Trew. “I learned that a small group of people that are strategic with their directives and use of energy can have an impact on the realities of millions of people.”
Soon after, in 2017, she began working with campaigns like Divest LA, a campaign to divest public funds from large banks such as Wells Fargo, who support things like DAPL and war. During that period, she became aware of some specific barriers that routinely keep people from committing to causes that are important or relevant to them. One is the political lethargy that has increasingly become the status quo, particularly among young folks. “A lot of people who do see what’s going on and care don’t know what to do about it, or feel powerless to engage.” Another is lack of awareness and education; “People can’t care if they don’t know.” She saw an opportunity to address both through art and community, and conceived Sugarcoated, an art exhibit that incorporates candy and sugar imagery into a pop art aesthetic that spotlights injustice. “What I wanted to do is create a collection where, when you look in the gallery window you see neons and candy and fun, but then when you walk in and start reading the descriptions, you actually get hammered with a dose of reality, but in the sweetest way possible.”
The first Sugar Coated pop-up ran from September 12 to October 5, 2019 in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles. Controversial and sensitive topics covered include the continued epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, the ‘Me Too’ movement, America’s obsession with brand culture, and the military-industrial complex. The overall theme was represented by tongue in cheek cartoon pieces like “Overpopcornated Jail Cells” which addresses the modern slavery that has resulted from mass incarceration.
“The goal is to inspire real, honest conversations – which is ultimately the basis of legitimate community, and simultaneously provide resources on how to get active in solutions locally.” She explains; “It was truly incredible to witness some of the conversations that started as a result of some of the pieces at the show” Rather than the sort of pop culture escapism that avoids directly confronting difficult or controversial realities, Sugar Coated is, according to Love, “An escape back into the reality of our own power.”
While searching for a venue for the Sugar Coated debut, the cannabis element of Trew Love’s work was inspired. A friend in the industry generously provided her with unused grow space of his for the show, and in their conversations, she learned more through him about the social justice issues that intersect with cannabis, and was convinced of the socially curative potential of the cannabis business community. “That was when I learned about the versatility of hemp in regards to plastics, building materials, carbon sequestration, soil regeneration, the durability of cannabis made material, and the ability to use biomass waste and convert it into sustainable products such as fabrics. When I learned all of this, it was clear to me that this is an industry that could truly repair the damage done by countless past and current industries, and that I had to get involved with ensuring that healing is a part of the industry‘s code of ethics, not just a convenient side effect of yet another purely profit driven marketplace.” That education and realization led to Cannabis Cures, a panel discussion held at the Sugar Coated exhibition among business community members based on how they and the larger cannabis business community are working to strengthen communities and heal the environment. Panelists included Kristen Lovell from the Social Impact Center who drew attention to the lack of properly distributed social equity funding, and Vanessa Rodrigues from 99 High Tide, a female run operation in Malibu who do weekly communal beach clean-ups, along with other representatives of cannabis business.
Initially just a successful panel, Trew Love is spinning Cannabis Cures off into an independent and open-sourced event series and media platform for members of the cannabis business community to raise and continue discussions about issues directly affecting users and entrepreneurs. She is also launching a podcast to keep the conversations going. “The goal (with both Sugarcoated and Cannabis Cures) is to continue educating people through fun events and direct community building. With Cannabis Cures I hope to build a national community of people who – individually and as a community – are choosing to elevate their practices with cannabis, both in use and within the industry. First by doing no harm to the world around us, but then also working to reverse some of the harm that’s been done.”
Another of Trew’s realizations was that by staggering specifically curated events, a more relaxed and natural form of community building could take over. “During the exhibit we wanted to bring different people and demographics to the show, and then by creating a fun environment that people want to come back to, you start integrating different communities into a larger whole.” Trew Love looks forward to incorporating that experience into her plans for the future of Sugar Coated.
In the coming year, Trew and crew plan to take Sugar Coated on a national tour that will include SXSW, Kansas City and New York City, and culminate with a showing at Art Basel in Miami in December 2020. “It’s a big quest,” she says, “but one that I believe will be very well enjoyed.”
Besides the national Sugar Coated tour and Cannabis Cures podcast, Trew Love’s creative plans for the future remain thematic toward community, activism and fun. Included are producing “Rhyme and Reeson” an adult animated comedy show tied to cannabis and social justice, and her most ambitious collaborative undertaking to date; The LA City Angels Project. Her goal is to community source 14 building sized murals of angels; one in each of the cities 14 Assembly Districts, working with the assembly person for each to map an interactive historic and contemporary educational tour that spans the entirety of her beloved adopted hometown.
Notable fans of her unique hybrid of art and activism so far include actress and activist Rosario Dawson, who bought Trew Love’s piece “PBnJ” at an auction supporting Yes on B – a measure in support of creating a municipal public bank in LA. Restructuring the predatory national and global banking system is another passion for Trew Love, who worked with Public Bank LA and celebrated with other ethical finance activists when the Public Banking Act (A.B. 857) was signed into California law by Governor Gavin Newsom in early October, 2019.
The success of the public banking measure, and the positive response in the cannabis and art community to her mediums of expression have her convinced she’s on the right track to building communities that heal and grow in every conceivable way. “I think a lot of the connection we seek and isolation that we feel, is healed by becoming active in a solution that you care about. A lot of that anxiety and fear and discontent, it disappears once you start participating in something greater than yourself. And if I can inspire that somehow and create a place where people can find that, then I have done my job well.”