Museums and art galleries are having lots of conversations around frontier technology, how to best utilize it and the implications it can have for their institution and their visitors. While the market for digital collectables is volatile, it is inevitable that an institution’s vast collection will eventually need to be digitized in order to grow an online audience, meet their educational goals, and even preserve their collection. In addition, to be true stewards of art and culture, these institutions cannot ignore the amazing artistic works that are being created in digital spaces and they will need to be included in any ongoing collections.
As cultural institutions are having these discussions, it’s prudent to look around and see what other museums are doing and what you can learn how best to proceed forward.
1 - British Museum
The museum took the first significant step in creating a permanent collection of digital assets when it partnered with French startup La Collection to auction the works of Japanese Edo-period artist Katsushika Hokusai. The rare drawings called "Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything" were minted into NFTs and sold online. The first edition fetched 10.6 ETH or about $45,000.
2 - Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
LACMA has gone beyond the traditional boundaries of a museum to explore more technologically advanced ways to showcase art. The "NFTs and the Museum" is a collection of topics covering blockchain technology's potential in the art world.
LACMA recently partnered with Paris Hilton to launch an acquisition fund to help women artists who create digital art. The museum is no stranger to supporting digital art, with the likes of Petra Cortright and Tony Oursler representing LACMA's holdings.
3 - Newark Museum of Art
The Newark Museum of Art did its part in opening its doors to digital collectibles with last year's "NFTs and Art Explained." This virtual talk introduced the topic to beginners, focusing on how digital assets might shape the future of professional artists.
It's a small, albeit significant, step that the museum is taking to help bring digital collectables into the mainstream. It also hints at the institution's openness to eventually incorporate or even transition to minting NFTs and other digital assets.
4 - Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami
The most recent deal involving a museum and NFTs is the November announcement of Yuga Labs to donate CryptoPunk #305 to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami.
The NFT, which pays homage to Miami's area code through a pixelated image of a woman with a blonde bob and VR headset, is one of 10,000 in the CryptoPunks collection. However, this isn't the first time ICA Miami to get a donation. The same museum received CryptoPunk #5293 from one of its investors, Eduardo Burillo. This time, CryptoPunk #305 is to be displayed by early December.
5 - Uffizi Gallery
Italy's Uffizi Gallery took a massive dip in value when the pandemic struck. Its doors were closed for 150 days due to COVID-19. Pandemic or not, the world-famous art museum had to do something to stay afloat during the period, which is why they jumped into creating digital collectables.
The institution partnered with Cinello, an encryption firm, to mint some of its Renaissance artworks and sold them with a certificate of authenticity. The partnership allows the museum and Cinello to continue making a cut of the profit each time NFTs are traded and provides stability for future growth.
6 - State Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage's case is the most unusual, considering Russia has a strict policy against cryptocurrencies. The museum, however, took the initiative of tokenizing some of its masterpieces. The motivation is compelling since the museum is one of the many well-established institutions that suffered heavily from the pandemic. So far, the museum has generated almost $500,000 in revenues from the sale of NFTs.
7 - Academy Museum
Although a relative newcomer, the Academy Museum's entrance into the world of digital assets is significant, its Future of Cinema gallery features artists Simon and Nikolai Haas' works minted into NFTs inspired by its exhibits. Currently for auction at OpenSea, the digital assets from this museum highlight the Pillar Award, traditionally presented at the Academy Museum Gala.
8 - Whitworth Art Gallery
Manchester's The Whitworth Gallery took the initiative last year of minting an NFT out of William Blake's image. But unlike the motivation from the previous museums we discussed, this one was intended to fund "socially beneficial projects" instead of profit.
The museum partnered with Vastari Labs, an online art platform that does business on the Tezos blockchain. The museum said that it finally opened its doors to digital collectibles and NFTs in the hope of effectively redistributing the richness of its collections in a way that impacts the community.
9 - Universal Hip Hop Museum
Bronx' Universal Hip Hop Museum worked with NEAR Protocol, a blockchain platform, in launching an NFT collection that features André LeRoy Davis' work. The famed illustrator worked on the project "Hip Hop Heads," showcasing the industry's most iconic artists. This space will allow artists to be creative while protecting their intellectual property rights through decentralized technologies.
10 - National Art Museum of Ukraine
This museum may not be as prominent as the others in this list, yet it showed that even the most traditional institutions are not excluded from the world of digital collectibles. With the hope of making a name in the art world and expanding its reach, the museum launched a collection of NFTs minted from its collection with the help of STAMPSDAQ, a startup based in Estonia. According to the museum, the goal isn't just to create a new revenue source and eliminate regional boundaries.
Digital collectables can be a great way for museums to keep their collections alive and accessible while maintaining control over them and creating new revenue streams. The growing pain of having to adopt digital technologies is unavoidable, and museums should prioritize projects that'll unlock new ways to engage with their audience and grow financially. Blockchain technology presents an opportunity that should not be ignored but also be carefully evaluated.