Collecting Cultural Assets on the Blockchain: Permanent Storage & Token Lending
221A is a nonprofit cultural organization located in Vancouver. We have the vision for all people to be able to make and access culture, with the mission of developing social, cultural and ecological infrastructure with artists and designers. 221A and Blockchain@UBC are working together to establish The Node Library, a new organization that provides artists, designers, and the public sector with the resources and infrastructure needed to develop digital public goods.
The Node Library is a learning centre being built to host network nodes from a select range of blockchains and distributed ledger projects. The Library’s programs will create opportunities for artists and publics to access technology, digital tokens, community grants and educational initiatives. Driving the project are a community of artists, designers, curators, educators, and developers who use infrastructure design to recommon the internet. By operating these nodes, the Library provides pathways to on-chain research, use-case development and data curating. The Library also collects web3 media assets and blockchain-based artworks. In the future, the collection will offer a token-lending program for token-enabled media and artworks, as well as creating onramps for permanent storage and conservation services for web3 cultural work.
Collecting, Archiving, Lending and Conserving Digital Assets on the Blockchain
In discussions with Information Sciences and the Department of Art History & Visual Art at UBC, there is interest to develop a strand of the library dedicated to collecting important Digital Artworks on the Blockchain (DABs), NFTs (music, image, motion graphic, video, text based, etc), as well as novel and inventive smart contracts, which will redefine the way relational cultural practices develop online in the decentralized web. Fingerprints DAO is an early example of this kind of entity. These kinds of projects de-anonymize the creators, and provide recognition and reputational value to the communities and individuals who develop these crucial new milestones and footholds in the blockchain space. Moreover, the need to develop more pluralistic solutions for permanent storage for online media still persists in the blockchain sector.
The Node Library will assemble an acquisitions guild of professionals from the traditional GLAM sector (Galleries, Libraries, Museums and Archives) as well as the web3 cultural space , in order to develop its own methodology for selecting, prioritizing and valuing new artistic and cultural on-chain creations. Advancing the use of decentralized, censorship-resistant storage networks by creator communities and cultural institutions as both an onramp to web3, as well as a space for experimentation and consensus-building, is a long-term goal of this strand of the library’s operations. Finally, developing a token lending primitive –time-restricted access to digital tokens granting members temporary access to on-chain media and digital communities–is another functional goal of the collections arm.
While data of transactions is stored immutably on the blockchain, the media indexed to web3 assets such as NFTs and other digital cultural works, like images, audio, video and other forms of rich media, mostly exist on traditional web servers that are beholden to private interests to keep them accessible. Should that private entity cease to exist, this indexed media is at risk of disappearing. Several permanent media and data storage solutions are emerging such as IPFS, Arweave and Filecoin to solve this problem. When it comes to important cultural work that are valued by communities and in the service of a public good, the permanent storage of this content becomes a matter of designing for the future digital commons. Public records, artworks of high public importance, open source documentation of digital protocols and software, or documentation of war crimes and human rights abuses, are examples of the kind of information that would require permanent storage, supported by a public institution in the service of the common good; free, open, secure and persistent access to the information.
Web3 is allowing artists and content creators to retain direct and multivalent relationships with their audiences. By token-enabling media, such as podcasts, e-books, films and albums, creators are able to release their work directly to their audiences, without the mediation and revenue capture by centralized platforms such as Youtube and Twitch. We’re witnessing a sea change in how creators and artists reorganize the access to, and their control over the financial aspects, of their outputs. In the near future, if you would like to listen to an album from a web3 musician, you will purchase an access token directly from the artist, instead of streaming their album through a service like Apple Music or Spotify. Likewise, token enabled media will become crucial for the distribution of subscription media like podcasts and newsletters, challenging the dominant structures today for these creators like Patreon and Substack.
In this year’s Block-a-thon for Social Good, which will be undertaken by distributed teams formed of students from UBC and HSLU, teams may choose between two challenges in the streams of Permanent Storage and Token Lending.
For the Permanent Storage challenge, you will design the collection infrastructure and technical outlines for the Node Library to offer permanent storage for some of its earliest pieces in the collection, which will be documentation from the work of the Center for Spatial Technologies, Kyiv, who are currently documenting the war crimes and infrastructure damage in Ukraine caused by Russian military aggression. This media should be permanently and publicly accessible, and be indexed on a blockchain.
For the Token Lending challenge, you will develop a roadmap for a lending protocol that will allow members of the Node Library to temporarily receive custodianship or access to an NFT from the library’s collection. The process should be automated, with a time limited loan, and the token should be returned to the collection vault automatically at the close of the token loan contract.