Collective Arts turns cans into canvases for social issues

The brewery is putting every single one of its 55 SKUs in the hands of artists of colour and advocates for social justice.

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Collective Arts was brewed up in 2013 with a proposition unlike any other.

Over the years, the Hamilton-based grassroots beer co. has perfected the art of combining the craft of brewing with the creativity of artists. It does this through things like collaborations with musicians and frequent calls for art, where it has so far paid up to $700,000 to creators who submit their work to be displayed on its pull-tab beer cans.

Typically, calls are for a single SKU and only four artists are chosen at a time. But 2020 is not a typical year.

Amid a persistent pandemic, the world continues to be buckled under social unrest sparked by police brutality. It’s a time when some brands are learning to flip the script and go for broke in order to truly make an impact. So, for the first time, Collective Arts is giving its entire portfolio of up to 15 brands to 55 artists whose work speaks to issues of social justice.

“We thought this deserves taking over all of our SKUs,” says Toni Shelton, director, brand marketing and communications at Collective Arts. “We want the art that lands on the labels to challenge people’s perspectives, to create space [for topics of equity/inequity], particularly with an emphasis on the people who are submitting them.”

Such an undertaking requires casting a wide net. And so Collective Arts is also allocating a larger-than-normal budget to promote the program on social media, as well as through a campaign via WeTransfer, which has direct access to artists who use the platform daily. “We haven’t done a lot of advertising for our calls – we typically take the more grassroots, organic approach,” says Shelton. “But now we are realizing that in order to reach the artists that we need to reach, we have to put some money behind it.”

The aptly dubbed “Amplified Voices” call for art began July 15 and ends on August 31, with the selected work planned to run across the beer brands and labels in the fall. Collective Arts is calling on creators to submit (preferably) already-produced illustrations, including protest art or work that “conveys a sense of hope for a safer and more inclusive future.”

While it’s looking to amplify BIPOC voices, the current call was intentionally made open to anyone from anywhere around the world (in the past, the brand has gotten submissions from 40 different countries).

“The call is not exclusive. If a white artist submits and we felt that the art was suitable for the call, we’re not necessarily saying ‘No, only BIPOC artists can submit,’” says Shelton. “When you create a call only for BIPOC artists, you tokenize them in a way. We’re trying to make this more focused on the topic as opposed to who is submitting.”

However, Shelton says all seven members of the committee that will select the art will be BIPOC artists and influencers in the art and beer space. And curators for future calls for art will be given more thoughtful guidelines and a set of goals to ensure there is more equal representation in the work that gets chosen in the long-term, she adds. In the meantime, Collective Arts is looking to one of its resident artists, Maia Faddoul, who is Mexican-Iranian and lives in Montreal, to help the brand with its messaging and creative for “Amplified Voices” (featured image above).

This also isn’t the first time Collective Arts has used its packaging as a canvas for other social issues.

To bring to light the industry’s lack of female brewers, with women more likely to occupy an office-based position versus one in the brewhouse, the brand created a special beer that was created by women artists and its own female staff. For the International Women’s Day program, they attended a hands-on workshop and designed the label and recipe for the beer that eventually made it to shelf. Collective Arts also took its passion for different perspectives to the LGBTQ community, with a special Pride series, called Life in a Cloud, will all of the proceeds from the limited edition beer donated to the Rainbow Railroad foundation.