Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
Art Basel Miami Beach took place the first week in December 2021, along with it were many parallel art conferences. One of the biggest points of focus was the discussion on NFTs. On opening day, one of my friends cynically asked me why anyone would want to buy an NFT when it’s not something you can put on your wall.
It was a fair question that I found answered by nft now CEO Matt Medved who, during a panel, questioned the audience on this exact subject, asking them to think about how much time they spent each day looking to their walls compared to the time they spent looking at their screens.
Collins dictionary declared “NFT” as the word of the year in 2021. Yet even with talk of rug pulls (scams) and hype, during the panel, Medved pointed out that rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the late 1990s crash came Netflix, Google and other behemoths. To succeed in the 2022 NFT space is to become part of an interwoven community. The community aspect and story that is in many ways as important as the art and collectors themselves.
How does this translate into benefiting artists, musicians and businesses?
The power of community could be unlike anything we’ve seen before, with NFTs affording many artists to share their work and larger message. Take the Bored Apes, for example — the Bored Ape Yacht Club, with its 10,000 members, is the most visible example of people finding community through a shared experience. They’ve even begun to host real-life events and meet-ups.
A powerful example of community is the “Women Rise” collective led by Pakistani-born Maliha Abidi. The mission of this NFT series is to support women activists, artists, scientists, coders and more rising on the blockchain. Empowering women and driving female engagement in crypto is one of the cornerstones of this project. From what I’ve seen, female NFT artists are still greatly outnumbered by their male counterparts and we should all be on a mission to change that. I felt the zeitgeist of our time speaking with her at a lunch hosted by NFT marketplace Rarible.
For one thing, NFTs come with the opportunity to make royalties, which are usually between 5 percent and 20 percent based on my experience. Fashion designer Nick Graham, for instance, recently sold an NFT of a bomber jacket to commemorate the Apollo 11 moon landing on Decentraland for 20,000 Mana, their version of cryptocurrency, or $17,000. Creators have the ability to immediately benefit from their art. It revolutionizes how creators can be paid.
NFT artists are creating community by founding their own platforms for other artists to sell their work. I met one such photographer Dave Krugman at Art Basel, who told me that the NFT community is like mycelium — the interconnected fungus network that forms a community in the way tree roots interconnect with each other.
The NFT space is a community. People invest time in it, sharing ideas, collaborating, talking on Twitter Spaces, supporting and buying into each other’s art and projects.
What touched me most was meeting the people whose lives have been transformed by the NFT trend. A young classically trained violinist at Art Basel told me he had to work hard doing lots of random gigs to make a living. He then recorded an NFT album, which netted him enough money so he could focus full-time on his music career. He is developing his own community without needing agents, managers or a record label.
Still, the NFT world in many ways mirrors the traditional art world, in terms of a small portion of the creators and collectors being responsible for the majority of the sales. The money and newfound fame are in the hands of the few. There have been numerous attempts by celebs with no connection to the community ending with them mystified when their work fails to generate the kind of big sales they read about.
Most of us have been isolated over the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The NFT world has been mainly connected on social media under assumed names. People meeting each other and forming actual physical friendships mirrors the NFT world itself. More and more NFT offerings are coming with physical assets — for instance, a physical work of art in addition to the digital piece of art, or membership, like the Bored Ape Yacht Club, to a club for people who are holding the same type of NFT.
Having seen so many easy-come easy-go trends, it’s natural that people doubt the validity of the NFT space. What I’m exploring is a deeper look into the power of community that is disrupting and potentially giving birth to the future architects of a more fair and equitable system for businesses, collectors and creators.