Finally, a good use for NFTs: Preserving Street Art

Last June, six artists—Jet Martinez, Wolfe Pack, Vogue, Joshua Mays, Bud Snow and Ruff Draft—entered the fifth floor of Oakland’s most iconic building: the Tribune Tower. Once inside, they painted and installed murals over 10,000 square feet of empty walls. The pieces ranged in style and subject matter from Wolfe Pack’s figurative piece celebrating dancer IceCold3000 to Jet Martinez’s contemporary pastel-colored work inspired by Mexican folk art. Within months, these murals were gone, erased by their creators’ own hands. The works were never intended to live in this building. They were destined for the Metaverse.

It’s not uncommon for street art to have a short lifespan, but this was different. Destruction has always been part of the Metaverse Murals plan, the one that turned the ephemeral of street art into a feature rather than a bug. Between creating and erasing their works, the artists did something unusual: each mural was scanned and turned into a 3D model of itself. Each was then enriched with augmented reality. For nearly two weeks, the group led augmented reality tours of space, allowing some 300 people to share in the immersive experience. Once destroyed, the murals were minted on the blockchain as NFTs and now live digitally. “Buildings can collapse, weather can cause damage and developments can obstruct views,” says artist Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith, aka Wolfe Pack, who led the project. “By scanning a mural and turning it into an NFT, we immortalize the art forever.”

It’s a far cry from the image many people have of street performers – lone figures, spray cans in the air, painting stealthily in the dead of night for cleaning crews to whitewash their room the next morning. Far from being vandals, the new generation of street artists often work on city-approved projects, placing murals that celebrate community and history on prominent buildings. Different from graffiti artists throwing tags, they make marks of a different kind and, more and more often, they incorporate technology that enhances and extends the experience beyond the wall.

Independent curator Gita Joshi, host of The Curator’s Lounge podcast, is not surprised by this rapid adoption of the technology. “Street artists are often rebellious in nature,” she says, “so it makes sense that they are at the forefront of developments in the digital space where they can have their work seen by people beyond beyond the location of street art”.

Art by Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith; Animation by Jeremy Patterson

Even before technology became an intrinsic part of art itself, it was a tool that artists depended on, from software to view and edit their works to projectors used to place them on walls. Technology has also permeated the aesthetics of street art. “Technology has influenced the processes of muralists, from imagination to implementation,” says Wolfe-Goldsmith. “We see design elements such as glitches, pixelations, distortions, chromatic aberrations, and digital collages in art today. Street art is fascinating because it speaks to everyone, without barriers. It is the voice of the city, expressing political unrest, joy, cultural movements and creative trends.

And yet, earning an income from it remained a challenge. NFTs could change that. “NFTs allow artists to grow international audiences, earn compensation, and find advocacy for their work,” says Joshi, optimistic about what the near future may hold. “As people buy up real estate in, say, Decentraland, I expect NFT street artists to find new opportunities as commissioned artists.”

Artist and NFT Mural Collective founder Stacey Coon aka StaySea is painting a mural that will eventually be minted on the blockchain. Courtesy of Lizzy Aber/Collectif NFTMural

Perhaps the best indicator of this market’s potential is the emergence of companies like Streeth, which focus exclusively on minting street art NFTs. “Street art may be the most undervalued and underserved niche in the art industry,” says co-founder and CEO Marco Calamassi, “but at the same time, it’s the most creative, most disruptive, where the artist has the most freedom of expression, the most freedom of message. Streeth is not alone. NFT Mural Collective was created by street artists to support the genre in the NFT marketplace “Street art deserves a place in art history just like Cubism, Dadaism or Surrealism,” says artist and founder Stacey Coon, aka StaySea, who created the group after tagging. and the defacement of two of his murals.”Contracts and NFT platforms allow us to be those historians.”

Hitting an NFT can be a surprisingly simple process. In its most basic form, all it takes is for you to have a crypto wallet and a digital version of your artwork. Most sites will walk you through the process, like NFT Mural Collective does, asking you to fill out a form with some details about the room. You have more control and transparency in the sale of the coin than in many traditional settings, from choosing the initial price of the coin, to deciding what percentage of secondary sales royalties you will receive if the coin is resold, as well as the choice of a range of payment methods. Then the platform takes over and hits the coin for you.

For all the ease, cost-effectiveness, and permanence that blockchain can provide, the physical presence of a mural is still irreplaceable. For example, The Majestic, a 15,000 square foot mural painted last summer in downtown Tulsa by artists Ryan Sarfati and Eric Skotnes, aka Yanoe X Zoueh. Rich in imagery that reflects the city’s art deco heritage and Oklahoma’s flora and fauna, it features a central angel and two children in a lush Henri Rousseau-style setting with woodpeckers, swallowtail butterflies and fish. -cats. Much of the power of this mural is in its relevance to the place and community in which it stands. But that power doesn’t stop at the ends of the wall, it’s also found in a QR code on the mural, which unlocks an augmented version of the room with swimming fish, fluttering butterflies, and clouds moving across the wall. sky. Those who can’t see the piece in Tulsa can view an augmented reality version of the mural online.

“Five years ago, to think of a 15,000 square foot augmented reality mural was just unheard of,” says Sarfati. “I would love to create more physical art than digital right now, but merging the two is awesome.”

But murals on the scale of The Majestic need big budgets. Sarfati and Skotnes were able to create additional revenue via NFTs from the work the duo released at Art Basel Miami in December, but services like NFT Mural Collective also allow artists to crowdfund based on work submissions. which will be struck when completed. . To blur the lines between the real and digital worlds and encourage online fans to interact with the physical murals, each wall will come with a Proof of Attendance Protocol, or POAP, a digital keepsake that anyone can collect on each unique mural site he visits. “NFTs expand an artist’s audience because they don’t just target street art fans, they target NFT fans, digital art fans, and crypto fans,” Calamassi says. “It’s a massive audience that’s getting bigger and bigger every day.”

That the patronage of online collectors can fund the creation of murals in the real world might be the best use of NFTs yet. “Nothing can ever change the deep emotional reaction of viewing a large-scale mural in person,” says Coon. “Immortalizing the murals on the blockchain allows these beautiful, massive works of art to live long past their expiration date.”

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