Can the Web3 revolution save independent artists in Seattle?


VSatherine harris-white, scene name SassyBlack, is worried. It’s fall 2021, and life is temporarily normal. The highly contagious omicron variant has yet to reach our shores, and the Seattle venues that the electronic soul and funk entertainer warmed up with his luscious voice before the pandemic are open again. But she’s on edge, because today she’s going to try something totally new: hitting her first NFT.

Understanding what an NFT is, or non-fungible token, even is proves a formidable obstacle for most people, given the complex technological underpinnings and layers of abstraction. Of course we will try. First, an NFT is not a work of art – it is not the thing itself. It is a unique digital certificate of ownership, registered on a decentralized transaction ledger known as the blockchain. Second, the applications of NFTs are not limited to digital art. Everything, theoretically, could be associated with a corresponding NFT. Your life story could be sold as an NFT. But more on that later.

In October 2021, after weeks of painstaking research, SassyBlack is selling a piece of digital art titled PROTECT: oneself on the NFT Zora market. His earnings: 0.48 ETH, or ether, a native cryptocurrency of Ethereum, the blockchain to which most high-level NFTs are linked. When SassyBlack was first sold, 0.48 ether was around $2,000. Three months later, the world’s first permanent NFT art museum opens in Belltown. Seattle NFT Museum founders Jennifer Wong and Peter Hamilton send opening night attendees home with a POAP (proof of attendance protocol), an NFT associated with the memory of the night.

That spring, with the flickering April light filtering through the front windows, Hamilton and Wong stroll through the industrial-chic gallery space. On a dais above the entrance to the museum, the CaféDAO is handing out “coffee tokens,” which will eventually be linked to a blockchain and confer a share of corporate governance rights on anyone who purchases one of the installments of $5. Right now, the Web3 cafe popup is in the pilot stage, and one of the contributors, wearing a pale beige barista apron, enthusiastically explains the concept to a museum visitor.

Web3, SassyBlack explains, is a catch-all term for technologies built on the principles of blockchain technology. The most important of these is decentralization (the “D” in CaféDAO), which means independence from third parties like banks and government institutions.

“It’s like the Wild West,” says Hamilton, head of TV commerce at Roku, of the emerging Web3 sphere. “The ideals of Web3 – shared economies, decentralization – are so much a part of Seattle.” The fresh-faced idealism and raw talent of our tech community, our rambling indie art scene – that the world’s first IRL NFT museum is here just makes sense. “The opportunity to be a Web3 city” is before us.

Wong, head of sustainability at Convoy, spoke at the inaugural NFT Seattle conference in late September, where crypto enthusiasts from across the city and country gathered to share their knowledge and ideas. TheCaféDAO was there to serve up pour-overs, and SassyBlack, now with nearly a year of experience integrating Web3 technology into their work, performed there in the flesh – and in the form of hologram. The future that Hamilton spoke of, of our city as a link between this emerging technology and its key players, is beginning to materialize.

David All, a Seattle-based entrepreneur and former speechwriter for the US Senate, also spoke at the fall conference. All’s company, ChangeDAO, seeks to channel revenue from NFT sales to charitable causes through the use of Web3 technology like smart contracts. These coded digital contracts, linked to a blockchain, allow artists to define the terms of the sale of an NFT themselves, and to decide the fate of the royalties associated with each subsequent resale, without ever having to tangle with the record labels.

In the first episode of the company podcast, Evidence of change, All tells how a hackathon in 2021 gave rise to the prototype of an NFT marketplace based on charitable donations. Using the platform, someone like All’s sister, a nurse in Chicago mired in student debt, could attach her life story to an NFT that anyone moved by her plight could buy – thus repaying their student loans and earning an enduring keepsake, stored on the blockchain, commemorating their good deed.

There are many criticisms of this technology, including the fact that the calculations needed to make a new entry on a proof-of-work blockchain like Bitcoin consume a lot of energy. All of this is dismissive. “There is no lack of energy in the world…. I mean, there are a lot of natural resources.

Not everyone in the crypto community agrees. All even recognize that it is an “unpopular opinion”. Many players in the web3 sphere are taking steps to address the energy consumption associated with blockchain technology, and Ethereum made a long-awaited transition to a more energy-efficient computing model on September 15 this year.

The rest of the criticism, everyone seems to agree, stems from a lack of good educational resources on NFTs and blockchain technology. Lennox Matsinde, product manager at Starbucks and co-founder of NFT Seattle, is more candid: “The only barrier to entry is ignorance. He envisions the conference, with tickets starting at $139, as a foot in the door for those curious about Web3.

Carly Rector is not Web3 curious. The 14-year-old Amazon veteran isn’t tech-savvy either. There are cases where using NFTs for art sales makes sense, she concedes, such as in the case of high-profile pieces that will likely be resold multiple times. But she thinks the way they are currently being used is, on the whole, “useless”.

This is partly why she decided to leave Amazon in early 2021 to found Co2ign Art, a digital art marketplace that includes a unique digital signature to verify authenticity and the purchase of carbon credits with every sale. Rector saw the need for a platform where small independent artists could actually profit from the sale of their work, and digital artwork ownership was more than just saving a JPEG file. , but hesitated that the environmental impact could be an afterthought.

Part of the reason was also how she saw her friends in the digital art world struggle. She’s spent years testifying to the relentless rigor demanded of independent artists, and post-pandemic her Twitter feed proliferated with calls for emergency commissions to help cover basic necessities like rent. Her friend Chloe Rozo, who now works at True Love Tattoo on Capitol Hill after years of trying to break into the digital art space, says it’s harder than ever to get people to buy what ‘they consider it a ‘luxury good’, with the economy so unstable. It has never been easy to succeed as an independent artist, but these are particularly dark times.

Rozo, who has work listed on Co2ign Art but mostly focuses on tattooing these days, admits she’s not an NFT expert. But from where she stands, they look like a pyramid scheme. It seems to him that the people who earn real money from NFT art sales are those who have already accumulated a significant number of followers on social networks and are well connected to the Web3 world. To paint NFTs as a ticket out of the constant hustle and bustle of independent artists’ self-promotion then seems like a false promise to him. If ignorance is the only barrier to entry, that’s fine with Rozo; she doesn’t want to come in.

SassyBlack had her own reservations at first. She didn’t want to get hacked or scammed or lose a crypto wallet, a mistake for which there is no recourse. But since getting into NFTs, she’s been able to earn “a decent amount of money” from sales, and she thinks any artist who takes the time to educate themselves and build a community via Twitter, Discord, and other channels can boost his career with Web3 Tools.

People from historically marginalized groups will particularly benefit, she says. These tools set them apart from the traditional gatekeepers of the industry. Just do some research to find out “where are all the black people, where are all the gay people, where are all the women…there are people from these historically marginalized communities thriving here.”

There have always been, and always will be, obstacles to success as an artist. “You should pay three to five Gs to have a decent marketing campaign for your record,” SassyBlack points out. And as a queer woman of color, protecting herself in a world indifferent to her success at best, or hostile at worst, is nothing new. The trade-off with NFTs – total self-determination in exchange for total bad luck if you get it wrong – is worth it for her.

And that’s what most promoters will tell you. The problems with the technology, from environmental impact to scams to lack of consumer protection, even its hypercapitalist underpinnings, are not unique to blockchain technology. And perhaps it is unreasonable to expect that a technology could save us from these problems which are basically problems of human nature. After all, tools can’t do much to change people’s hearts and minds. That’s what art is for.


“Can someone explain these acronyms again?

  • NFT: non-fungible token, a digital certificate of ownership stored on the blockchain.
  • POAP: proof-of-attendance protocol, a type of NFT that is distributed to attendees of an event.
  • ADO: decentralized autonomous organization, or an organization that operates using smart contracts and other Web3 tools for the purpose of creating shared ownership.
  • Web3: catch-all term for a technology based on the principles of blockchain technology.

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