By Jaime Lubin and Ronit Pinto
If you are in the cannabis space, you most likely know Barbara “Bobbi” Koz Paley. Bobbi is a Force. A force of nature, a force in cannabis, in the art world and in any group setting where you may find her. We at Honeysuckle and Honey Pot have been blessed to know this inimitable woman through the years.
“Listen, we’re women in this space,” Bobbi says. “We need to have more women and more prominence and more power. More and more and more.”
This is a statement that Bobbi, lifelong entrepreneur and current CEO of Art Assets, has confided during a long and beautifully adventurous night. Winding through downtown New York, we’ve followed her from a women’s wellness book release party to a café for dessert, then to a residential building where Art Assets, a consultancy that curates high-impact art installations in privately-owned public spaces, has one of its artists’ pieces on full display in the lobby. The huge mural-like work Paley shows us is mesmerizing, every inch filled with iridescent, intertwining female figures in a lush garden. It perfectly illustrates her point that women’s success comes from the fact that we think collaboratively.
But this is how Bobbi lives – constantly on the move, searching for opportunities where she can connect people and empower other women in finding their driving purpose. Over the past five years she’s become one of the top investors in the cannabis industry, responsible for bringing many now-leading brands to wider markets and for creating the Arcview Group Women’s Investor Network (AWIN) with Jeanne Sullivan. Arcview, the world’s oldest and most prominent cannabis investors’ organization, has a history of supporting female entrepreneurs (the first to present on its stage was Jessica Billingsley of MJ Freeway/Akerna, who would go on to be the first woman CEO in cannabis to get her company listed on NASDAQ). However, there’s still much progress to be made, in Bobbi’s view. AWIN had its inaugural daylong retreat/think tank only just in Fall 2019.
“I care very much about having tremendously diverse industry,” Bobbi emphasizes. “Because if we have that, then we have something that’s for long-term. If we have the [same white older men] of the world, we’re going to be fucked, and we’ll never have the quality products that we need… It’s not a male, stale, pale world.”
Paley has carried this ethos throughout her life, creating spaces for diversity to flourish long before her entré into legal cannabis. Growing up as the ever-curious, free-spirited daughter of a physicist whose inventions saved lives in World War II, she was inspired to stimulate forums for intellectual and cultural freedom in others. She curated art in South Africa during the apartheid era, defying the country’s laws to exhibit work by Zulu artists (eventually meeting Zulu Nation king Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi). At certain points she also helped smuggle a few anti-apartheid activists out of South Africa to freedom in other nations.
She’s continued these practices at Art Assets with socially-conscious pop-ups that call attention to political, gender and racial issues through visual and performing art. Once, seeing a graffiti artist about to get arrested for defacing a subway poster, she promptly rescued him by telling the police she was his patron and that his action was in preparation for one of her shows. Art Assets later gave the artist an entire solo exhibition of his own.
“I like to break the law when I don’t like the law,” she notes. “I use the establishment as my cloak in many ways.”
Asked how she finds the courage to stand against society’s injustices, Bobbi replies, “I never thought about it as courage, I thought of it as something I could do that made a difference… It’s very important for the girls in our life, for people to understand that we have this power, each of us, and for women, we need to bring it out.”
Particularly, Bobbi believes women should explore that power in a regenerative business ecosystem, which she initially tested by forming the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University in 1993. Her success there provided the foundation for all her projects geared toward global economic sisterhood today.
“Women have a different wiring in their brain,” Paley explains. “If you think of how the Internet is connectivity, that’s how women’s brains work. We’re responsible for our businesses, our employees, our [homes], our children, our lovers, our [spouses] – I think 92% of all dollars spent, women control. That’s a huge amount of money, responsibility, connectivity. And I think we run our businesses in very similar ways. So it’s not a competition with men, it’s an enhancement to the kind of businesses men have been running… Women are more leading-edge thinkers when it comes to the wellness world… My way is to gather the women, to create power groups, voice and interdependence in terms of investing in each other, working with each other, cross-pollination, speaking… The opportunity is that we get to know each other [and] expand our businesses together. So power goes every which way.”
And in the way that women seem naturally to comprehend connectivity better than their male counterparts, so too do they instinctively recognize the wide-ranging applications of the cannabis plant. “Our market’s not a white guy in Union Square,” Paley reiterates. “Our market is 7 billion people around the world. And the opportunity for cannabis is to create high-quality, low-cost wellness tools for everybody in the world to have access to, to be able to purchase. That’s the goal… It’s a female plant. Female plants operate differently.”
Bobbi admits she felt more confident investing in cannabis once she realized that cannabinoid products could improve her sleeping patterns and that her investigation into the science of the plant revealed “female” traits. “I trust women,” she sums up with a laugh.
Uncharted territory though it is, the cannabis industry has proven especially fertile ground for women entrepreneurs and executives. According to Marijuana Business Daily’s national survey for 2019, women held 37 percent of senior-level positions in cannabis companies in the U.S., as opposed to the dismal 21 percent for companies across all other industries. Though Bobbi and many others remain adamant the figures should be higher to better reflect the general population, cannabis has at least fostered an environment for some great thinkers to bring us into the future.
Naming some of the women she sees as most dynamic in the space, Bobbi is quick to mention Giada Aguirre de Carcer, founder and CEO of New Frontier Data – “[She] has created a new category of blending technology and data” – and Constance Finley of the wellness product powerhouse Constance Therapeutics – “She’s an absolute leader in the product space… she has science, she has technology, and she has patents that are enforceable.” In an example of her cross-pollination at work, Bobbi is also helping coordinate business between Constance Therapeutics and Cannafloria, the cannabis products division of the thirty-year-old ecoproducts company Aromafloria, run by pharmacist and aromatherapist Sharon Christie.
With new developments underway across the board, Paley has set her sights on engineering through cannabis a similar holistic model to her earlier successes through Art Assets. Over the past few months, she has begun cultivating operations and partnerships in the Berkshires that will transform the idyllic region into a booming tourist destination hub where “culture, cannabis, and nature” can be enjoyed together. Land throughout the area, home to old milling facilities, can be reworked into cannabis farms and processors; meanwhile, networking and community events will be curated at some of the most esteemed cultural institutions in the Northeast, including the renowned music venue Tanglewood (home to the Boston Symphony Orchestra), Jacob’s Pillow dance center (site of the oldest internationally-acclaimed dance festival in the U.S.), and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
“I named my company Art Assets because I think of taking the assets that are around and putting them together to accomplish whatever it is I’m working on at that moment,” Bobbi comments. “So now it’s the Berkshires because I think that’s a real opportunity to monetize an area that needs economic development. It’s got gorgeous nature, it’s got great hospitality… so it’s taking all these assets and enabling the cannabis community to regenerate.”
Collaborations through this concept have met with burgeoning success this past quarter. From high tea at Edith Wharton’s The Mount to an educational weekend at the historic estate Blantyre, featuring pop-ups from cannabis companies like MariMed and MyJane, it appears Bobbi’s vision is heralding our nation’s next evolution of “manifest destiny” – except this time, everyone prospers.
But does the key to destiny truly lie in biology? Bobbi does believe women are born leaders, as long as we stay curious. “We’re not afraid to ask questions,” she asserts. “It’s that ecosystem thinking… The patriarchal system [is] unfolding as we speak, and it’s up to us to accelerate that process in one way or another… Just in our lifetime, there have been [a lot of] changes, right? And it’s important to understand that we made many of those changes and now we’re living them, and in living them, we can accelerate them. That’s what our power is.”
Where there are women in leadership, studies are starting to show, the environments become more vertically integrated, more open, and more solution-oriented. Some of these women are storms, creating waves, ripples and tsunamis wherever they go. For where there are women like Bobbi Paley, offering courage and wisdom to inspire us, those environments are suddenly a paradise: Female figures of prominence, goals intertwined, greening the Earth anew toward an Eden of our own making.
To learn more about Barbara Koz Paley and Art Assets, visit artassets.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For more about Arcview and AWIN, visit arcviewgroup.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.