Curator, gallerist and educator: a platform for decentralised art

Culture Vault, a curated platform for art in Web3.0, launched in February this year and has since then been joined by a range of Australian and international artists.

Familiar names include Kamilaroi artist Reko Rennie, 2021 Wynne Prize finalist Philjames, and interdisciplinary duo The Huxleys – artists who have established practices and institutional recognition.

When these works enter a (digital) space which places decentralisation at its core, what role does curation play and does it bring back the ’traditional’ art world concern of aesthetic gatekeeping?

Michelle Grey, Co-Founder and CEO of Culture Vault told ArtsHub: ’The promise of blockchain is certainly centred around the idea of a decentralised platform but even now, it’s still very difficult for people to engage with NFTs or the such in a meaningful way – that is works that have the visual artistic merit of digital art.’

After trialing their version 1.0 platform, Grey revealed that the next step is to engage the community in that curation process to fulfil the decentralised proposition.

‘Culture Vault will be launching 2.0 in the next couple of months adding more technical functionalities but also work towards a community token DAO (decentralised autonomous organisation),’ Grey explained.

This means that artists part of Culture Vault’s community will have voting rights on curatorial decisions.

Read: How digital art rental and blockchain intersect

But apart from adopting the role of a curator, the platform is forming other familiar structures of support for artists and collectors, taking up responsibilities akin to a gallery and an educator on the values of digital art.

Grey continued: ’For a long time, photography was not considered fine art and there was a time when people were sceptical of online shopping … We’re still at the very very beginning of art on the blockchain and there is so much education that needs to be done.’

So what’s in it for artists?

Monetisation is at the core of NFTs, but for many artists, it’s another medium to experiment that provides access to a different audience.

In an earlier interview, Will Huxley told ArtsHub: ’[Garrett and I] like the idea that our art can reach different audiences, people that may not necessarily come into a gallery.’

He continued: ’The thing that excites me is rather than making things that you would imagine exist within an NFT context, to bring in traditional art forms such as costuming, painting, and photographic work into the digital world – like marrying the traditional with this new technology.’

It’s about shifting the perception of NFT art away from the jpegs and gifs to think about how physical works can translate to a digital space.

We’d keep making art even if no one wants to see it or buy it.

Will Huxley, The Huxleys

Huxley added: ’I remember when YouTube first started it was so hard to find what you’re looking for and I saw a lot of things that didn’t appeal to me … Having that curated experienced helps.’

Furthermore, Culture Vault has hosted physical events for its recent launches, including The Huxley’s NFT debut and upcoming event featuring Wendy Yu’s projections.

Grey explained: ’While it might not be completely necessary to have a physical event, what we’re trying to do is just introduce and expose the art to people in a way that they can digest, where you’re able to meet the artists (who can often feel anonymous online) and start those conversations.’

Addressing the environmental impacts

This part gets a bit technical but for those who are concerned about the environmental impacts of blockchains and NFTs, there are currently different solutions.

One is carbon offset through a third party which converts your carbon footprint from a NFT transaction into a dollar amount which you can then pay to environmental projects such as renewable energy or forest conservation.

Another is using a secondary network such as Polygon (rather than directly through Ethereum), which starts off using less energy than traditional blockchain platforms. Grey explained: ’When you mint using polygon, the process uses the same amount of energy as sending 2.5 emails.’

None of these solutions are perfect, but then again, ‘think about the environmental impact of shipping canvases all over the world or the plastics in packaging’, said Grey.

Her advice is to do your research before jumping on the bandwagon of criticism, understand the risks but also the solutions and benefits.

Read: Making your organisation carbon neutral

Part of Culture Vault’s mission is to bridge the gap between the art world and the crypto community, and increasingly this is embodies a mix of responsibilities that are held by traditional arts professionals.

Whether it’s helping artists get a foot in the monetising a digital market or ensuring their experimentation doesn’t lead to environmental destruction, the need for curated platforms such as Culture Vault hint at the importance of these infrastructures in order for the art to flourish – propositions that the NFT space has so far failed to deliver on its own.

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