Dawn of a Black Digital Renaissance

Cuy Sheffield
3 min readJan 2, 2021

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and not those of my employer. The views in this post should not be construed as investment advice.

On March 21st, 1924, Charles Spurgeon Johnson and Alain Locke organized a dinner at the Manhattan Civic Club. The dinner brought together 125 attendees that included Black artists, writers, and pundits alongside white publishers, magazine editors, and philanthropists who gathered to acknowledge and celebrate an “emerging abundance of Black creative talent.”

Johnson and Locke aimed to use Black art, literature, and music as a powerful force to advocate for political and social equality. They saw the potential for Black creativity to fight harmful stereotypes, lift collective Black self-esteem, and create new economic opportunities. However, they needed to convince the predominately white gatekeepers who controlled economic resources and mainstream distribution through magazines, journals, and galleries to recognize this.

This dinner was considered a tremendous success that helped to kickstart mainstream recognition for Black writers that began to be published and recognized by the editors who attended it and became known as the dawn of the Harlem Renaissance.

Credit — The Legacy Project

While the record of everyone who attended that dinner and each connection and opportunity created from it was never captured, the cultural producers, collectors, builders, and investors of a new Black Digital Renaissance will exist over time and can be passed down as historical artifacts for generations.

The Harlem Renaissance represented Black culture crossing over to become mainstream popular culture. The internet accelerated this adoption but monetized it primarily through an advertising industry controlled by a handful of large platforms.

The Black Digital Renaissance represents the opportunity for Black culture to become increasingly monetized directly by the Black creatives and communities who produce it.

Instead of being geographically centralized in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, the new Harlem exists on the open internet and public blockchain networks. Instead of having to convince existing institutional gatekeepers of Black creative talent, artists have global distribution directly to consumers over the internet. Instead of ownership and royalties retained by large platforms, anyone will be able to create, capture and own the value of the digital cultural assets that they produce or discover.

For the first time, this digital renaissance will be global. It will enable Black communities across continents from Los Angeles to Lagos to collaborate and create new forms of Black creative expression that can unify and represent global Black culture.

ONE/OFF — Beyond Provenance: Speculative Black Futures on the Blockchain Exhibit

Similar to the Harlem Renaissance, this Black Digital Renaissance begins with the acknowledgement of the potential of Black creativity and the concerted effort to foster and promote it to the digital world.

It begins with educating Black artists and communities across the world on the power of both the internet and crypto as a new open digital platform that they can harness and build on.

And with collectors and consumers supporting these artists, building connections with them, and aligning their incentives with the artist to help them succeed.

In honor of the 125 people who attended that dinner at the Civic Club almost 100 years ago, the ONE/OFF gallery is creating 125 Founding Collector memberships.

Each membership will be memorialized as a unique non-fungible token (NFT) that records this important moment of time and will identify the collectors who have committed to helping Black crypto art succeed.

I’m honored to have the opportunity to become a Founding Collector and see how I can support Black artists and communities to realize their potential.

I hope you’ll consider joining us.

Thanks to Micah Johnson, Herman Marigny IV, Brandon Bailey, and Martel Campbell for reviewing this post.

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