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Mod. 9 - Decentralized Networks and Movements

Research a network or movement such as the examples shared in the Announcement.

Consider interviewing someone in the network in addition to online research. Respond in a blog style post: Is this an effective network: why or why not?

 

You never change things by fighting reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. - Buckminster Fuller.


I love this quote (Thanks, M.J.!) from Buckminster Fuller because it gets to the core of what is happening across numerous sectors of industry around the world. Because I’ve made my career in the arts, I wanted to use the opportunity to research different examples of decentralized networks to see what efforts that are in the arts sector to integrate the principles of decentralization. Like many industries that have seen enterprising individuals attempt to challenge the status quo, the entertainment industry has seen many efforts to disrupt the norm and power structure of art galleries and music recording labels as the gatekeepers to success and earning sustainable wages. In the same way iTunes created a public marketplace for millions to peruse and purchase music, sites like OpenSea, Rarible, and Binance have combined the models of iTunes and Ebay to create online auction houses to facilitate the collection of rare visual items such as works of art, trading cards, and sports memorabilia. Writing for CoinCentral in 2018, Steven Buchko outlines the efforts of some art galleries to make visual art more accessible by creating their own, or collaborating with an existing online decentralized art gallery. He writes, “Combining blockchain technology with galleries improves art’s accessibility and greatly supports artists who may have been struggling to get by. With the value that decentralizing art brings, it’s no surprise that the industry is moving this direction.”

I would argue that decentralized art galleries are perhaps the sector’s best attempt to apply equitable practices to their work, but because many hold nonprofit status, they frame the work through the lens of “accessibility” rather than decentralization. In order to analyze the effectiveness of these efforts within the art world I will use the five equity characteristics shared in the Collective Impact Forum as the barometer of success.

  1. It starts with a common agenda

  2. It establishes shared measurement

  3. It fosters mutually reinforcing activities

  4. It encourages continuous communications

  5. And it has a strong backbone

It starts with a common agenda.

Sadly, many arts organizations operate in silos. Efforts by industry service organizations to facilitate mass gatherings of industry leaders at conferences to foster new ideas and talk about sector wide challenges to create a common agenda fall short year after year. Fundraising challenges, overworked and underpaid staff, and the persistent fear and threat of losing one’s job prevents any kind real innovation or new shared common purpose to emerge or take hold. This is further exacerbated by the fact that many of these gatherings are limited to the administrative staff and rarely include equitable representation from all sides of investors including board members, private and public funders, and the artists themselves.

It establishes shared measurement.

Industry service organizations do their best to gather industry-wide data in a variety of areas through surveys that look at ticket prices, donations, audience attendance, website views, public support, and other areas in order to establish shared measures of success. Sadly limited human and time resources and high staff turnover often prevents many companies from sharing their data consistently and thus makes any kind of analysis of patterns or trends impossible. As a result, reports rendered from poor analysis combined with the existential need to provide membership value leads many service organizations to share misleading information and further complicates any movement towards shared measurement.

It fosters mutually reinforcing activities

The majority of arts nonprofits are not resourced well enough to be able to create a pipeline of mutually reinforcing activities. In the case of a digital marketplace where any artist is able to share their art, most nonprofits would be unable to organize and analyze large numbers of wide-ranging artistic entries into systems that could become mutually reinforcing. Some artists’ aesthetics might be more commercially viable and as a result they receive the most attention from the platform’s people and resources and become the exceptional artist who is integrated into the pipeline of presented artists alongside the limited number of other pre-existing artists. As a result, other artists in the digital marketplace are considered less viable and are not invested in equitably. If the digital art marketplace invested in those artists considered less commercially viable, they might discover a viability they could leverage against other competitors. The online gaming industry is a perfect example of this. Historically, gaming was considered a small, niche market with low artistic credibility. In recent years, however, online gaming has become so popular, 2021 video game revenues reached close to $200 billion dollars, that now entire arenas have been built that are dedicated to online gaming tournaments, similar to any other kind of professional sporting event.

It encourages continuous communications

Continuous communication rarely occurs because competition stops artists from supporting one another due to the perceived lack of opportunity to earn income. If digital art marketplaces were to generate numerous pathways to introduce different artists to different audiences and create opportunities for them to get to know each other and make art together for multiple potential buyers, the likelihood of all of them generating greater income would result, much like the proverb of “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

It has a strong backbone

The pandemic demonstrated that it was in fact the artists themselves who had the strong backbone in a time of peril, instead of the arts presenters. Because artists weren’t limited by institutional constraints, and the unprecedented nature of the pandemic threw out all of the traditional rules, many artists were able to make art that was seen by thousands of people who would normally depend on the traditional institutions to introduce them to these remarkable artists.

While digital art marketplaces are still relatively new, their success thus far has been somewhat limited in terms of decentralization. The vast majority of artists continue to self-promote with limited success and hope to catch a lucky break in which they might find financial success and sustainability.

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