Visual artists from around the world are competing for $50,000 in cash and a chance to have their work displayed on products and events with one common theme: cannabis.

The Natural Cannabis Company, which owns two dispensaries in Northern California, is hosting its fifth annual High Art competition.

Photo illustration “Bloom” by Filipino artist Egon Bryan Silva won third place in its category during the 2017 High Art competition. (Image courtesy of

The contest is free to enter and open to all types of artists at all experience levels.

One grand prize winner will receive $15,000 plus the chance to select a charity to receive an additional $10,000 on their behalf. Eligible nonprofits include the American Red Cross, Amnesty International, PETA, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and the International Campaign to End Landmines.

The top 20 artists will receive cash prizes, and 10 more will receive honorable mentions. One artist will also be chosen “Crowd Favorite” via online vote.

Top artists will be featured on The Natural Cannabis Company’s line of products and promoted at art and cultural events around the world. Some winning works will also be displayed at the High Art Gallery in Santa Rosa.

More than 3,000 entries from 63 countries flooded in for the 2017 contest.

This year’s contest opened on Feb. 20, and Natural Cannabis Company spokesman Randy Barnes said the first day shattered all previous records.

Barnes chatted the The Cannifornian about how the contest has evolved and the role the marijuana plays in the creative arts.

Q: How did the idea for the High Art contest come about?

A: The High Art contest began in 2014 as a packaging design contest. It aimed to combine the worlds of art and cannabis. As it progressed, High Art became a way to allow people from around the world to express their thoughts on cannabis through their art.

Q: Why do cannabis and art seem to work so well together?

A: From Jim Morrison to Carl Sagan, some of the most creative, thoughtful people of our time have used cannabis to expand their thinking. There’s more to cannabis as a muse than just psychoactive effects. True, some strains can provoke psychedelic experiences, but most won’t. Instead, cannabis seems to release the mind from rigid thinking and disable our built-in filters. It allows us to see connections between seemingly unrelated information. This allows a kind of unfiltered creativity.

Q: How has the contest evolved over the years? Have entries and prize money increased?

A: The first two years of High Art received only a few hundred entries. The prizes included $5,000 and MacBooks. During 2016, High Art had 1,400 entries from 42 different countries competing for a $15,000 grand prize.

Dona Frank, creator of High Art, made a promise to herself that for the fifth year of this contest, she would provide a $25,000 grand first prize for the winning artist. She wanted to see the love spread as far as it could go, so her idea was to find international organizations with positive, caring missions that help people.

Q: Do most entries you receive incorporate cannabis images (leaves, smoke, etc.) into the art? Or are most works more quietly inspired by cannabis?

A: About 60 percent of the artwork seems to incorporate cannabis in some way shape or form. The remaining artworks are inspired by cannabis subtly (like being mentioned in the artists’ bios) or not at all.

Overall, even in countries where the plant is still extremely illegal, artists have expressed an overwhelming amount of support for cannabis use.

Q: Can you tell us more about the artists who submit work? Where has your most distant submission come from, for example? Are most entries from professional artists or amateurs?

A: High Art receives artwork from artists in every walk of life. Some people enjoy entering doodles and others have been recognized by global art institutions. We have received submissions from over 65 different countries. Most distant or unexpected? Kazakhstan, Tunisia,Russia, Malta, Uganda…

Q: What types of art work have you received? Paintings, photography, sculpture…?

A: We restrict entry to 2D artwork that is printable in nature. However, we have had artists enter high-resolution photos of tilework that has placed in the past. During 2017 we had separate categories for print, photography and video. This year we have combined photography with printwork and are no longer accepting video.

Q: Tell us how judging for the contest works.

A: The contest is judged by a panel of judges that changes each year. This year the panel includes local artist Natalia Bertotti, the co-founder of Altered Art Studios, Debi Tucker and noted exhibition designer, Lisa McCall. Judges are asked to take into consideration the year’s theme, the incorporation of cannabis into their work and the artists written biographies. Public vote determines crowd favorites.

Q: How did you select the charities eligible to receive donations this year?

A: High Art founder Dona Frank personally chose the organizations that the winner will select in order to donate $10,000 of the $25,000 prize money. All of these international organizations are humanitarian and have been around for a while. In her humble opinion, they are all very worthy.

Q: Along with the High Art Gallery in Santa Rosa, where else will people be able to see contest art later this year?

A: People can see much of the artwork displayed at OrganiCann in Santa Rosa and at MendoCann in Hopland. High Art also makes appearances throughout the year at street fairs and festivals in the Bay Area. We have also taken the artwork to Art Basel, and hope to do so once again in the future.

Artists can learn more about the contest and submit their artwork on the Natural Cannabis Company website at

Sugar Punch is a video by Sophie Wright on Vimeo that was a finalist in the 2017 High Art competition.

Here are more top works from last year’s contest.

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