Why I’m Collecting Black Crypto Art

Cuy Sheffield
6 min readDec 21, 2020

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.

Last month, I wrote about how crypto could become a vehicle for Black economic empowerment due to its existence as a technology, industry, and a new asset class. Since then I’ve been exploring each of these dimensions in more depth and the opportunities that they present for Black communities to build wealth.

Crypto art as a new form factor and platform for Black artists, curators, and collectors, is one of the most exciting new avenues that could spur a Black Digital Renaissance that would create and capture billions of dollars of value for Black communities across the world over the next decade.

Midnight Blues by @lethabohuma_art

What is crypto art?

While Bitcoin represents an asset that serves as “digital gold”, public blockchain networks like Ethereum are general purpose technologies that enable new assets to be created, have their ownership recorded, and be easily traded on global exchanges.

This started with the ability to represent “fungible” assets like dollars on a blockchain in the form of stablecoins that have rapidly grown over the past few years. But it has also enabled “non-fungible” or unique assets like art and collectibles that can be represented as a non-fungible token or (NFT).

NFTs first gained mainstream awareness in 2018 through the success of early crypto collectible games like CryptoKitties which were described as rare “beanie babies on a blockchain” that consumers could collect and trade.

Since then, we’ve seen NFT use cases evolve to include an emerging ecosystem of artists that are using new platforms like SuperRare to “tokenize” their artwork onto the Ethereum blockchain and sell these unique tokens to art collectors.

These tokens include the image or video file to the digital art embedded within them with a digital signature that comes directly from the artist that provides provenance that the token was created by them.

Now why would you want to buy an NFT if anyone can download the digital file associated with it for free?

The collector of the NFT is purchasing a direct, social connection to the artist that creates it that you don’t get by screenshotting or downloading their work on your own. This creates a powerful form of social signaling and incentive alignment between collectors and artists.

As one of SuperRare’s most successful artists describes, “Everybody sees it, only one owns it.” The more people that see it and have it resonate with them, the more valuable that the art becomes.

only in my dreams by @blacksneakers

Crypto art as a new asset class

Traditional fine art is a $65B market that has had average annualized returns of over 7% for the last 35 years. Wealthy investors have been using it to diversify their portfolios but it has been largely inaccessible to consumers and retail investors due to gatekeepers like auction houses that are difficult to navigate particularly when looking to sell artwork.

Crypto art has been described as “Instagram meets Robinhood” as new platforms building on top of public blockchain networks are lowering the barrier to entry for artists to create and for consumers to buy and sell tokens representing digital artwork.

For example, earlier this month digital artist Beeple sold $3.5M worth of crypto art in a weekend. Collectors bid against each other to purchase these digital tokens that were issued from Beeple’s address. Buyers also received a physical piece paired with it and an opportunity for their name to be listed next to the work they purchased on Beeple’s website creating a direct connection between the collector and the artist.

The Beeple sale could be a turning point for an industry that has gone from only a few thousand dollars to $30M of crypto art sold in the past year according to cryptoart.io.

Credit — Richard Chen

How can crypto art help Black artists and communities

Black culture and forms of creative expression communicated through mediums such as music, literature, and art have thrived and driven mainstream global culture for generations. However, historically it has been difficult for Black artists and creatives to capture and own the value of the culture that they produce.

Predominately white art institutions, museums, and historians have served as gatekeepers that influence what art is deemed “valuable” and have often overlooked contributions from Black artists both past and present. Over the past ten years, only 1% of the global art auction market was spent on work from Black artists.

Crypto art has the potential to become the next mainstream art movement that democratizes the creation, ownership, and discovery of digital artwork. It offers Black artists both new dimensions to incorporate into their work in addition to access to a global platform to reach interested collectors and sell their work directly to them.

Instead of private institutions determining the value of the artwork, an audience of hundreds of millions of consumers on the internet do as they have the opportunity to easily own the token representing the art and use it to establish a digital cultural identity.

New crypto art galleries are emerging like One/Off to help onboard Black artists and curate artwork into new digital first exhibitions. According to One/Off, from January through November, 58 Black crypto artists have sold a combined 513 pieces of crypto artwork for 1,132 ETH (total market value of $736k).

Credit — One/Off Research

Over that time, the average sale price for Black crypto artwork increased 543% from $144 to $927. The value of Black crypto art is being recognized by the market and Black artists are seeing promising demand and early returns for their work!

Credit — One/Off Research

In addition to helping Black artists capture the value of their creativity, crypto art gives Black communities the opportunity to own a new appreciating asset. Understanding Black culture and identifying the many trends, memes, and styles that cross over to mainstream global internet culture now reaps financial rewards for the Black communities that cultivate it.

Crypto art serves as a new gateway to introduce Black consumers to new types of digital ownership and exposes them to emerging technologies like public blockchains and crypto wallets that create new opportunities for Black entrepreneurship.

Hand eye coordination by @izzyalright

What’s next for Black crypto art?

This might be the first time that you’ve heard about Black crypto art, but it won’t be the last. Black culture and creativity combined with crypto is a powerful force that can reshape how mainstream consumers identify and communicate value online. As Black celebrities, athletes, and influencers recognize the outsized returns they can gain from harnessing these new platforms while providing avenues for those returns to benefit Black communities, we could see the birth of a Black Digital Renaissance.

If you are interested in supporting Black crypto art, join me as a founding collector at the One/Off gallery and check out their debut exhibition, Beyond Provenance: Speculative $BLACK Futures on the Blockchain.

The group exhibit, launching December 28th, will explore the duality of blockchain technology as both an immutable record of the contribution of Black artists to the emerging Crypto Art Movement, and the medium artists use to rewrite the narrative of who benefits from the value of Black creativity”

Recommend Reading and Resources

The Proof of NFTs — $3.5M Beeple Drop

Buying art on the blockchain for collectors

Getting started on the blockchain for digital artists

List of Black crypto artists on Twitter

View my collection of Black crypto art here

If you are passionate about this topic and want to learn more or get involved feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @cuysheffield

Thanks to Herman Marigny IV, Brandon Bailey, and Martel Campbell from One/Off for reviewing this post and allowing me to share their data

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