Street photographer uses NFTs to share the wealth with ‘underappreciated’ street performers

Whether it’s Shakespeare in the park, a pop-up art market or a street performer playing an instrument, there is always art to be observed in Boston. Few people know this better than the photographers who make it their mission to document their surroundings.

When busker Donald Heller, aka The Hurdy Gurdy Man, was approached by a photographer in 2019 to have his photo taken, he thought nothing of it. He’s become accustomed to large crowds coming to watch him play his medieval hurdy-gurdy, a string instrument that produces sound using a hand-cranked wheel that creates friction against the strings, similar to a violin bow.

“Playing in the streets of Boston for 12 years, there are thousands of people that take photos of me every summer,” Heller said. He never imagined that his likeness would be turned into NFTs worth $4,162.63 (as of April 26, 2022), or that he would be getting a portion of that money.

A Boston Impression by Austin Schofield

@AustinVisual / Courtesy of the Artist

Austin Schofield is a photographer who’s been honing his craft for six years with an emphasis on street photography. He began distributing his work on NFT marketplaces like Open Sea and Foundation in August 2021. Schofield has garnered a large following on Twitter for his dreamlike and impressionistic photography of Boston. He first began minting (the process of turning a digital artwork into an NFT) and distributing his NFTs in August and has since sold 30 photographs worth roughly 7 Ethereum tokens, or $20,962.90 (as of April 26, 2022).

His latest collection of NFTs focuses on the many street performers of Boston, starting with four photographs of The Hurdy Gurdy Man. Schofield said he wasn’t initially sure if the project was suitable for the NFT marketplace, but his friends encouraged him to speak directly with the performers and “make sure everyone gets a piece of the pie.”

“Initially I felt a little weird about making money off these portraits, because these are people who are monetarily underappreciated,” Schofield said. “With this, I feel like I can give them something of sincere monetary value and he will get money kicked back to him.”

While Donald Heller was aquainted with the idea of NFTs before he met Schofield, he was no expert. Instead of getting bogged down in the crptic world of cryptocurrency, he ultimately let his son — who happens to work in crypto — take the lead in the negotiation process.

“I told him to speak to my agent, Julien Heller,” he said.

“I’ve tried to explain NFTs to him before on family holidays,” Julien Heller said of past conversations with his father. “I tried to coach him, and eventually decided I should talk to him [Schofield] myself.”

Text exchange between Donald and his son Julien
Text exchange between Donald and his son Julien

Julien Heller / Twitter

Upon taking over communications with Schofield, Julien Heller was able to not only ensure his father was compensated for the initial sale of the NFTs, but also all future sales.

“When an artist mints a photograph, they get about 95% of the profits,” explained Schofield. “If the collector buys it, I still get 10% royalties in perpetuity. Regardless of the price or how many times it’s traded, I always get royalties.”

For The Hurdy Gurdy Man portraits, Schofield and Heller agreed to an 80-20 split of the primary sale profit and future royalty payments. They set up a digital wallet for Donald Heller to receive his share.

Donald Heller received about $800 worth of Ethereum tokens for the initial sales of the NFTs. But the value of the tokens are so elastic that it was worth over $1,000 at one point. For a busker who makes $0-$250 in a day, depending on the weather, the NFT sales were a solid payout that will only continue to trickle down after future sales.

Donald remains vigilat on holdig not cashing out his crypto cash yet. “It’s my little nest egg. My robin’s egg,” said Donald Heller.

When the series of three photographs was finally released, Julien Heller was so excited to have his dad introduced to the metaverse that he couldn’t help but purchase one of the NFTs himself.

“They were all bid on almost immediately, and the one I wanted had two people interested,” Julien Heller recalled. “I questioned how much I was going to pay for it, and didn’t want to take away the ownership of my dad’s image cause it’s nice to have it spread out.”

While the collection was initially a exclusive release of just three images, Schofield was able to explain the situation to the three collectors, who allowed for a fourth NFT to be sold to Julien Heller.

“When he showed me the fourth I was super happy and liked it better than the previous three already,” remarked Julien. Austin Schofield and Julien Heller ultimately settled on a price of 0.33 ETH, or $988.25 (as of April 26, 2022).

“It was all worth it for me to have this piece of my father,” Julien Heller said.

Schofield’s newest collection, Street Performers – Volume II, which encapsulates David Bowdre, is now available on Foundation. And his mission to compensate the artists with an 80/20 split remains.


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