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The Cannabis Art Movement

High Art Contest Showcases the Cannabis Art Movement 

For decades, artists have created bodies of work associated with or inspired by marijuana. Over time, the cannabis art movement has expanded far beyond familiar themes, with the socially and artistically relevant subject taken very seriously by artists, the art world and the public. The Natural Cannabis Company’s High Art Contest, created in association with Juxtapoz Magazine is a singular competition, showcasing the best of worldwide cannabis-themed art while supporting esteemed non-profit organizations.

According to Noa Commendador, the High Art competition director and marketing coordinator for the Natural Cannabis Company, the competition has grown tremendously since its inception in 2014.

“The contest first started as a packaging design competition. We received a few hundred entries and received great feedback that first year, and from there, we created an art contest. This year we received 4,900 entries from 80 countries, which was nearly double what we received in 2017, and included entrants from an additional 24 new countries,” Commendador explains.

The artists have about five months to create their project and submit it to Natural Cannabis, where a team of judges evaluates each artwork. Winners are announced at OrganiCann – one of two Natural Cannabis retail outlets – at their annual 4/20 celebration. The public may vote for their favorite piece up to the closure of the competition, with the winner of the public’s award receiving special recognition. The 2018 High Art theme was “Freedom,” with artist interpretations going far beyond the simple depiction of cannabis.

One of the goals of the contest is to disseminate cannabis stories and art around the world while helping to continue efforts to destigmatize the plant and the culture that has blossomed around it. “Through our High Art Facebook group, I had an opportunity to speak with our artists. Their stories bring light to the competition. These are people who can lose their hand for using cannabis in their country- who can be been jailed for trying to treat an ill family member. We live in a small bubble here in California, and the competition helps remind us how lucky we are,” notes Commendador.

“To judge artworks, we look for adherence to our annual theme and how artists express that theme,” says Commendador. “We like to see utilization of cannabis in the artwork, even though it’s not a requirement.”

It’s also not a requirement that the artist consumes cannabis. “Some entrants use cannabis recreationally or medically. Some don’t. Some are supporters of the industry. Some are our Natural Cannabis farmers. We’re always looking for something positive to say about cannabis or cannabis in the artist’s community. We fall in love with different pieces every year.”

The first place winner receives a $15,000 cash prize. The artist then selects from a group of non-profit organizations, and an additional $10,000 is donated in the name of the artist to the organization of their choice, with additional cash prizes awarded to the runners-up.

Mike Oncley, the 2018 winner created his piece, “Onjha” with a decoupaged background made from Seattle cannabis magazine clippings, along with red, blue, and white acrylic paint. His entry represented the state’s freedom to smoke cannabis recreationally. He chose the International Red Cross as his non-profit partner.

“Each judge has a different process. I generally read all the artist bios, and then I screen-shot the pieces I love. I had about 200 favorites toward the end of the competition. A lot of us have completely different views. We’re given about a week to whittle our favorites down to the top 100. From there, the pieces are cross-referenced to each judge. There are quite a
few meetings to winnow down the Top 50 to the Top 20 and then, to the final Top 10,” Commendador smiles.

Though the winners are announced at a public ceremony, most artists are unable to attend the celebration. “This year, a number of our Top 10 winners were located in the US, but in other years, all the winners were from other countries. Many of our artists are struggling. It’s hoped that the prize money helps change their lives.”

Commendador hopes that with increased sponsor support, Natural Cannabis will be able to fly out the top three winners of future contests. “We’d like to increase our prize and donation pool and take the artwork to galleries around the world. We’re always looking for sponsors who align with our vision.”

Portions of the winning artwork are used on Natural Cannabis packaging. “It’s a challenge to take the artwork and represent it on our packaging – to do the art justice and meet the state’s strict packaging requirements. We have to be super-creative. We’re not thinking outside the box; we’re creating the box and pushing that creative process throughout the whole business.” Artist biographies and QR codes can be found on some Natural Cannabis products.

The 2019 High Art theme is Technology. “We’re reaching out on social media so artists can start brainstorming. The theme encompasses everything from AI, robotics, computers, video games and more. We think this theme comes at a really good time, and we know the entries will be extremely interesting.”

The Natural Cannabis website displays the finalists and winners from years 2015 to 2018, and all of the 2018 entrants may be viewed on the High Art homepage.

Natural Cannabis operates both OrganiCann in Santa Rosa and MendoCann in Hopland. At both locations, prints are on display and for sale, with proceed going to the artists. Online purchases will be available in the future. To view a selection of High Art entries, visit Gallery 105, located at 105 4th Street in Santa Rosa. OrganiCann is located in Santa Rosa at 301 Todd Road. MendoCann is located at 13325 S. Hwy 101 in Hopland. For hours and information, phone (707) 744-8811.

For more information on Natural Cannabis and the 2019 High Art Contest, visit: