“If today’s arts love the machine, technology, and organization, if they aspire to precision and reject anything vague and dreamy, this implies an instinctive repudiation of chaos and a longing to find the form appropriate of our times.” — Oskar Schlemmer
In a class project for an English course in college, I recall working on a project that constituted half of my final grade. The project essentially was to curate my own digital museum using slideshow presentation software. Each historically significant artifact I chose from museums worldwide had to be based on and somehow connected to one text that was part of the course curriculum. To excel in the project, I had to ensure that all of the selected cultural artifacts seamlessly integrated with each other, thereby telling a cohesive narrative.
In this scenario, I was granted the freedom to arrange these artifacts into a virtual exhibition, whether or not I realized it at the time, I was partaking in a form of “decentralized curation.” The ascent of decentralized art curation and discovery proffers a novel perspective on how we encounter and interact with art. It endows one and all with the ability to unearth and collect art that speaks to one’s aesthetic sensibilities. It allows a more democratic approach to curation, expanding beyond the confines of absorbing new information solely from the viewpoints of a select few experts.
The evolutionary development of the human brain can be attributed to the cognitive demands of socializing in groups. As our brains grew larger, one key attribute that arose from this was increased socialization and storytelling capabilities - the ability to construct and share imagined realities. Through storytelling, we were able to develop beliefs, narratives, and other intellectual constructs that furthered our social and organizational capabilities, such as religions, companies, nations, liberal humanism, and of course, museums.
At its core, curation can be viewed as a form of storytelling, enabling the delivery of value and the establishment of consensus. Curation involves arranging objects or concepts in a specific manner to effectively communicate desired information or values to a group. The conventional curation approach employed by museums today for instance is limiting because the process is controlled by a small group of experts, impacting our comprehension of knowledge and its creation.
There seems to be a missing piece in the puzzle here due to a major failure on our part that is: the relinquishment of sovereignty and agency as a result of a lack of awareness regarding the origins of how this knowledge is created and generated.
A clear sign of the times:
Global museum visitation has declined by 77% - underscoring the pressing need for the cultural sector to explore innovative approaches to generate more revenue.
Only a tiny fraction of items are chosen to be out on public display in the museum’s extensive collections - more than 90% of items are locked away in a vault.
Three-quarters of museums worldwide reported an average of 40% loss in operating income in the past few years.
The solution →
The team at Arkive is building the first decentralized blockchain-powered museum. The Santa Monica-based tech startup has raised $9.7 million in seed funding to date, led by Offline and TCG Crypto. The company’s founder and CEO Tom McLeod claims that: “Arkive is an entirely new down-up model where everyday people are part of curating the collection and defining an item’s artistic historical relevance and place in culture.”
Arkive emerged from McLeod asking one simple question, ‘What if the Smithosianian was owned and curated by the internet?’ It governs itself as a decentralized-autonomous organization (DAO), empowering everyday people to become stewards of historical artifacts. As they allow its members to curate and acquire items that were previously only accessible to private collectors. To capture the essential metadata details of an item and allow for fractional ownership, blockchain tech can transfer them into non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Each of these NFTs provides a tamper-proof account of the origin, verification, caliber, and state of the piece within its assortment.
The team at Arkive believes that the online community is a vast repository of expertise and fascination with the most obscure niches of subjects, not just occupied by the few professional curators. While many don’t have the financial means or capital to purchase items that pique their interests, one’s deep passion, knowledge, and appreciation of art and history is the most invaluable form of currency and triumphs compensation for the latter.
For museums to make a comeback, we need to leverage blockchain tech that can reinvent our conceptualization of what these historical artifacts signify and mean fit for the digital age, aiming for a restoration of vibrancy to these institutions.
Why let museums gather dust and become relics of the past when we can blow away the cobwebs and instead weave together a web 3.0 with brilliant information and data that reinvigorates public interest?
Foundation has recently unleashed a new tool meant for curating NFT collections that are called ‘Worlds’ and allows any individual to curate their own personalized gallery of pieces. Its launch has raised awareness within the crypto/NFT art community on the invaluable role of the curatorial processes within the blockchain sphere. The goal of ‘Worlds’ is to bridge the gap between two communities: 1) the native NFT users and 2) contemporary art enthusiasts. Once again, disrupting traditional notions of what the incubation processes of curation in the art should be like.
JPG (pronounced as jpeg) has essentially created a decentralized curation platform, allowing anyone to participate in the creation and dissemination of cultural artifacts. It allows for transparency in ensuring that the cultural information associated with NFTs is preserved in perpetuity for future generations. It allows users to create their own NFT exhibitions or join a community where they can create NFT lists called Canons. JPG claims that it’s breaking free from these centralized transactional servers for NFTs by “leading the charge to create an open cultural network for NFTs that can live on forever as powered by on-chain provenance” that’s all stored on the Arweave protocol.
Some of the most globally-recognized museums in the world have already been embracing blockchain, crypto, and NFTs into their model:
The British Museum (London, England): unveiled an exhibit in 2021 titled “Hokusai: The Complete Collection of Masterpieces” that showcased around 103 previously undisclosed artworks of the Japanese virtuoso. The Museum introduced a range of NFT postcards that feature some of his famous prints. The first sale in the collection was the first version of Hokusai’s “The Great Wave” for 10.6 ETH, valued at roughly $45,000 USD.
State Hermitage Museum (Saint Petersburg, Russia): auctioned tokenized versions of some of its permanent collection masterpieces, including a Leonardo Da Vinci painting. The Hermitage’s tokenized works auction yielded $440,000 in Binance USD, showcasing the potential fundraising potential of NFTs for museums. Despite the strict anti-crypto regulations in Russia, this example serves as a great case study moving forward.
Uffizi Gallery (Florence, Italy): partnered with Italian encryption firm Cinello to mint NFTs of famous paintings and includes an authenticity certificate. An NFT of Michelangelo’s “Doni Tondo” fetched €140,000, which is approximately $170,000 in USD in early 2021. The blockchain-enabled partnership allowed both parties to receive a share of any profit from the NFT trades.
How museums can entice visitors to view NFTs in person when they could view them online:
This requires curators to exercise their creativity in the museum-NFT relationship. The mere display of NFTs on screens is not enough to attract visitors, as they can simply access them from their devices. A more compelling approach would be to integrate NFTs into a broader narrative or story. When an NFT is purchased on the blockchain's proof-of-work (POW) protocol, museums can communicate their immutability or scarcity, creating special exhibitions or events that offer a one-of-a-kind experience.
Incorporating NFTs to create a more immersive experience, not only elevates the visitor experience but unlocks the potential for curators to craft a transfixing storyline and amplifies the meaning of the contextual framework of the piece. Another integration that could enrich this experience is the proof-of-attendance (POAP) protocol, where visitors receive a token as a result of participating in an exhibition. It could have various functions for future use, such as granting one access to exclusive content or more permissions in the governance processes.
The learn-to-earn (LTE) protocol could be implemented to gamify the learning experience. Visitors can be rewarded with tokens for completing various tasks and quizzes related to the exhibits. These tokens can be redeemed for various rewards, such as merchandise, souvenirs, discounts, exclusive events, and more. Visitors could also engage by interacting with exhibits and artifacts in certain ways by contributing their own content or insights to a particular exhibit.
Gateway.xyz is a web3 credential management protocol that could allow visitors to securely store their digital tickets, NFT exhibition access, and other certified credentials in their wallets. This protocol could enable museums to offer personalized access to other special experiences because of a visitor’s authenticated credentials. It also provides a tamper-proof and enhanced way of security and reliability of the museum's ticketing processes.
How blockchain technology modernizes the current state of the museum:
The everyday person can transcend “the cult of the curator” and transform power dynamics by having a role in the democratization of the curation process.
Incentivizing visitors to shift their focus toward forming a deeper connection with the stories and humanity behind the objects, instead of solely focusing on their state of physicality that lacks context.
Granting more universal accessibility, offering people new ways to engage and participate in the preservation and interpretation of cultural heritage.