Sponsor the World You Want to See—Getting Creative With Pot

Next week, I give a talk at the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. I’m honored. Because I tailor keynotes to the audience, I took time out to interview some of the movers and shakers in the world of alternative newspapers.

Here’s what I learned: Forget “print is dead.” Suspend your disbelief that we’re trapped in an economic death spiral. The truth is that alternative news media is surviving—in some cases thriving. Three cultural trends keep indie newspapers relevant:

1. hyper local—”Dude, who’s the backyard farmer down the block?”
2. free—Before Chris Anderson deemed it cool
3. artful—a cornucopia of hip film, art, food, music news

Let’s take artful. Recognizing that the local arts scene needed a little fertilizer, Westword newsweekly in Denver created the MasterMind Awards. Similar to the MacArthur genius grants but on a smaller scale, MasterMinds rewards five cultural visionaries who are working to change the cultural landscape of Denver by giving them cold, hard cash. The source of the money? Pot. Yes, you heard me.

Denver has a booming medicinal pot business and the best place to advertise is in Westword. Patricia Calhoun created the MasterMinds program when she found herself flush with advertising money from marijuana boutiques, but scant on ways to fertilize the creative landscape in Denver.

Five years into its existence and the program has yielded untold benefits for Calhoun, the paper, and Denver. Calhoun says it energizes her. She uses the Masterminds for quarterly jam sessions with her writiers. Like a pop-up think tank, the group riffs on social issues, community development, the economy, new shows worth seeing, and rare wonders unique to Denver’s cultural scene. It’s become a force for inspiration at the WestWord. When I asked Patricia Calhoun what brave experiments in urban culture were going on in Denver, she didn’t hesitate. “You know what, I’ll ask the MasterMinds.”

Patricia Calhoun is sponsoring the world she wants to see. It’s a more innovative world. The approach is simple and effective: she hired artists.