The Stone Age
Since moving to New York, my Tik Tok’s For You Page has been an invaluable tool in getting to know the city. I came across a video promoting The Stone Age in Chelsea, a female and minority-owned business and New York’s first and only large-scale, non-consumption-based cannabis experience. I’m originally from Toronto, and having followed Canada’s legalization in 2018 and dispensary storefront boom, I was curious about the exhibition and its role in cannabis culture in New York City.
I reached out to Sasha Perelman, who co-founded the event with Elizabeth Santana, to learn more about their intentions and creative process. It was emphasized that people were hungry for information, so it should be easily digestible. The Stone Age was originally intended to move from city to city, but as the influential nature of educating New Yorkers about the normalization of plant medicine became evident, they decided to transition the exhibition into something more permanent.
Perelman explained how their team chose curated artists based on non-traditional criteria. They looked for local street artists with their own personal relationship with cannabis, in any capacity. Most important to the event, as stated, were “artists who have been or currently are system-impacted.”
This educational narrative is exemplified through the event’s incredible art pieces. As you travel through The Stone Age, you absorb information around cannabis culture in the U.S. The seamless design that transitions each installation into the next shapes your experience as you digest the darker content. A highlight is a recreation of a prison cell, demonstrating the experience of those incarcerated due to cannabis offenses. The physical space and art pieces present this narrative in a visceral way for visitors. Viewers face walls coated in neverending tally marks and sculptural pieces of faces and body parts trapped within the walls themselves. They represent the lives that have been put on hold, or destroyed, by a broken criminal justice system.
In the “Awareness” section, a stark red, black and white timeline of the War on Drugs teaches visitors about prohibition and highlights the injustice currently happening. QR codes lead to links to donate to Last Prisoner Project, the event’s community partner, and petitions are available near the exits to allow visitors to become part of the change. Even the gift shop is informative. While visiting, I noticed how open and relaxed the staff were, ready to answer questions and engage in dialogue about the exhibit rather than focusing solely on the transaction.
The Stone Age also offers panels, like “Sessions at The Stone Age,” which highlighted creatives shaping a new narrative around culture and advocacy. The panel featured four artists who facilitated talks around their relationship between art and cannabis. This type of programming creates innovative learning processes through open table discussions. In regards to adult education, cannabis, a previously stigmatized substance, remains taboo for some groups. In a panel setting, the presenters can address specific questions and concerns of varying generations.
The Stone Age highlights the impact of incarceration in the U.S. on marginalized communities, rather than glorifying “weed” and substance use. It offers an intellectual view of cannabis through a creative installation design by local artists. Paired with the emotional impact that the art pieces evoke throughout, this exhibition provides visitors with resources to contribute to their communities. The Stone Age is exemplary in fostering education and advocacy through the arts.
Photo by Ana Candelaria
Art by Kira Bissell