How Immortalizing Street Art Through NFTs and 'Art-as-Activism' Can Save Under-Funded Communities

How Immortalizing Street Art Through NFTs and 'Art-as-Activism' Can Save Under-Funded Communities

Today’s biggest issues surrounding women’s empowerment, environmental sustainability, climate change, and conservation have captured the attention of the world’s brightest minds - forgoing celebrity community engagement and hype.

Instead, you have project-based social initiatives, where independent artists are standing up and embracing this new NFT-blockchain technology to not only grow their personal brand awareness but to stimulate social change and give back to their communities that have empowered them to continue creating.

A $40+ Billion NFT Market That Hasn’t Yet Scratched the Surface

As of 2022, the NFT market surpassed $40 billion in 2021, compared to $50 billion in conventional art sales in 2020. Thanks to centuries-old auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s selling millions of dollars worth of limited edition digital artwork, in addition to open marketplaces like OpenSea and Rarible affording individuals with an opportunity to be recognized for their creativity, we are beginning to see the tides turn of “how to successfully” make it as an artist. Last week, blockchain startup Propy made history after it sold the first real estate-backed NFT in the U.S. when a Florida-based property sold for $653,163 - setting the waves for NFT's legitimacy and longevity in today's economy. In 2021, the technology pioneer sold TechCrunch founder, Michael Arrington's apartment in the Ukraine as an NFT, raising over $16 million in venture capital from both Tim Draper and Arrington.

Yet, with all the hype and apparent profitability these first-to-introduce concepts have brought, there is one market within the world of art that NFTs were made for - street art.

By incorporating NFTs and blockchain technology into the graffiti, freestyle, and street-created work, artists will be able to immortalize their name and showcase their work beyond the streets and find their signature pieces being owned throughout the world, and potentially injecting life into underserved populations. 

NFTs for Social Change Created by Street Artists Across the Globe

Back in January, renowned street artists from around the world ascended on the village of Akumal with a joint purpose: to beautify the city with art.

With New York’s Konstance Patton (SoHo Renaissance Factory), Cbloxx (Nomad Clan), Denver’s Tukeone, SF Crew graffiti artist Frase, London’s Jim Vision, and Mexico City based Nia Fase, Akumal played host to over 100 artists, with three straight days of artistic finesse, to which I was able to speak with several playmakers from this event while it was happening.

Third Rail Art, a hub for street art, culture and now digital art lovers, has devoted its time to creating opportunities for artists to use their creations to stimulate social change. They also brought onboard Hublot watches as an official festival partner, leveling up the financial support and commissioning Cancun-based artist Frank Banda to create a masterful mural paying tribute to the Maya calendar and the Maya-inspired limited-edition Hublot watch.

Since as early as 2018, Third Rail Art has financially supported artists from New York City all the way to Mexico, looking for ways to provide an interconnected network of national and international mural artists, serving as the bridge between Mexico’s Akumal Arts Festival and The Great Wall of Savas in New York City through its 2020 “Walls For Good” project.

As part of the project, each new mural on the Great Wall of Savas in New York City triggers a donation that goes directly to the village of Akumal to help improve the quality of education and public services that have been dangerously underserved by its own municipalities and government.

“We were living in this ‘no man’s land’ where we weren’t getting any services and weren’t being treated as we should be. And that’s when I came along,” said Jennifer Ensley Smith, founder of the Akumal Arts Festival.

Smith, an expat, who has lived in Akumal for over 20 years, has spent the last six years developing the necessary partnerships between Akumal and its delgados, or mayors to change out the light bulbs at the entrance of Akumal and its bridge due to the increasing safety concerns for her staff and employees.

These ‘delgados’, according to Smith act as a liaison between Akumal and its municipality, who have the ability to work with public services to facilitate the changing out of lightbulbs. The problem, however, was that it could often take months for these changes to be made.

Ultimately leading to the creation of the Akumal Arts Festival in 2018, Smith has since opened it up as a funnel and bridge for Akumal to have access to modernized technology and resources that could help keep the light shining in its tiny village by addressing the neglected public services it has endured with for so long.

The Festival, which ran from January 27-30, is far from over, considering what Third Rail Art is working on in the post-production stages of the Festival.

Anticipating its public debut at the end of February, Third Rail Art is launching its NFT platform with “NFTs 4 Good” that will showcase an NFT from select murals that were painted from participating artists during the three day festival, educating participating artists about NFTs, onboarding and assisting them with the minting process on its new platform.

Third Rail Art platform donates the sale of the NFT to the Akumal Arts Festival, but the artist has a 10% royalty written into the smart contract for any sales on the secondary market.

Unique to the project and platform is that with each NFT sale, Third Rail Art is taking the proceeds and donating it directly back to the Akumal Arts Festival to continue its mission of improving and beautifying the city of Akumal and creating an impact for positive social and economic change - while the artist has a 10% royalty written into each NFT’s smart contract for any subsequent sales on the secondary market.

The bottom line is that while we are beginning to see NFTs utilized and applied in areas like real estate and fine art - its overarching mission in today’s world of systemic injustice, inequality, and of course, the COVID-19 pandemic - is stimulating social change. And Third Rail Art in collaboration with Akumal Arts Festival is a perfect representation of how truly impactful NFT projects can be, if launched for the right reasons.

“We can be political with art. We can change the conversation with art. I love color,” Smith concluded.

Posted In: artcontributorsMexicoNFTCryptocurrencyEntertainmentESGLatin AmericaMarketsGeneral

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