Craft beer producer Collective Arts Brewing is giving aspiring artists from across Canada a valuable platform to showcase their work on its cans. CEO Matt Johnston explains why creativity is so important for his company

Story Gavin Conway / Photography Sylvie Li

The act of creating a truly memorable drink, whether it’s a delicately layered gin or a deliciously complex beer, is as much about artistic craft as it is about the science of distilling or brewing. Being a Michelin-starred chef is much the same—you don’t learn it out of a book; it’s about inspiration and a unique sense of what flavours you can achieve through innovation. The common thread here, though, is an artistic sensibility. Matt Johnston, CEO of Collective Arts Brewing, understands that connection better than most.

The 45-year-old co-founded Collective Arts Brewing in 2013, with a brief to create a series of beers that would introduce distinctive flavours and also give aspiring artists a platform to showcase their talent. Collective Arts is no small-town micro brewery, either. Based in Hamilton, Ontario, it sells its wares in every province in Canada as well as 16 states in the U.S. It also ships brews to Asia and Europe, where Sweden and the U.K. are the largest markets. And it’ll shortly be launching a bespoke gin.

“we’re working with text code on cans: you send the text code and it connects you directly with the artist”

The artistic connection is crucial—every three months or so, the company makes a “call to art” for submissions of artwork from around the world that might end up on a can or bottle from the brewery’s series of beers. Musicians are also welcome. Submissions are considered by a panel made up of art gallery curators, lifestyle magazine editors, artists, musicians and even program directors at radio stations.

Over the last six years, more than 750 graphic artists and about 200 bands have featured on the brewery’s cans

“We think creativity fuels even more creativity,” says Matt. “There are so many amazing emerging artists and musicians who have a hard time being seen or heard. We have a platform and ability to share that experience. We can connect our craft beer drinkers, who by their nature are creative, with amazing works by artists.

“We do everything we can to support and champion artists, whether that’s featuring their work on the cans, or paying them for our use of supporting materials like prints or clothing. If we do anything beyond featuring them on our packaging and promotional materials, we pay them additionally. We take no long-term ownership of the artists’ work.”


Based in British Columbia, Paige Bowman studied at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver and Sheridan College in Toronto. Now a successful illustrator with a large portfolio of work, Paige has had a collaborative relationship with Collective Arts Brewing for the past year.

“I was put on to the idea that they accept submissions on their website, so I submitted a couple of pieces and they grabbed one of them for a series of their cans,” explains Paige. “And they came back with three other projects that they wanted me to be involved with and commissioned me to do their gin bottle label, which will be released in the spring.” The collaboration is working well for Paige.

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“I’ve had a couple of clients saying they saw my work on Collective Arts and have reached out about other projects, so there’s been a definite positive impact for me.” Paige’s work is properly fantastical, with an atmosphere of gothic drama, but also a deeper message. “One of my themes for the cans featured crocodiles. It’s about different animals coalescing into one singular figure. The metaphor was about mental health, human experience or emotional states being depicted via these animals,” she says.

But she also brings an illustrator’s instinct to the job: “I just thought these were really graphic and would look nice on a can! “What’s cool about Collective Arts is that they bridged a gap between craft beer and illustration, which I think are both niches that are equally passionate in their respective ways. Illustration is an often overlooked subculture of visual art; it’s around us all the time, but the engagement with people outside the illustration community is not as active as you might think,” she says.

“So it’s cool to see brands like Collective Arts, with its niche with craft beer—which is already a very passionate subculture in itself—bridging into illustration and giving exposure to such an amazing variety of artists.”

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Collective Arts is also very active in supporting musicians and emerging bands. “We go out and engage with the different record labels, and every three months or so we’ll feature four emerging performing artists or bands. We’ll marry them up with a gig poster artist and do a poster for them. We’ve just collaborated with New York-based Mom + Pop Music artists Sunflower Bean, Ashe and Raffaella.”

The sprawling brewery facility in Hamilton also houses an art gallery that displays all of the cans that artists have lent their work to. Over the past six years, more than 750 graphic artists and about 200 bands have been spotlighted. There is also a space at the brewery to host live performances. Matt says that he is thinking about “local production” outside Ontario, but for the moment the majority of Collective Arts brewing is out of Hamilton.

“We’re always pushing the limits of how to make the connection between our beer drinkers and artists as easy as possible,” says Matt. “We’ve been working with text codes on our cans. If you send the text code on the can, it’ll connect you directly with the artist, their bio, their feed and their content.” Collective Arts plans to continue its relationship with creatives, either musically or in the graphic arts. It’s plainly a mutually beneficial arrangement. “It’s really about the creative community bringing our brand and our company to life and, in return, we’re helping to champion the creatives that we work with,” says Matt.

Collective Arts will also be opening a facility in Brooklyn, New York, which will continue the focus on the arts. In the end, the results of Collective Arts collaborations are truly beautiful artistic creations that are collectible in a way that no beer can or bottle has ever been.

It’s not just the cans: the Collective Arts factory in Hamilton also reveals an artistic flair