From Skeptic To Believer: The Origin Story Of The Blockchain Art Collective

Jacqueline O'Neill
Nov 1, 2018 · 5 min read

Many people think everyone in the tech industry majored in computer science and spends morning, noon, and night writing code.

That’s simply not true. There are a lot of people who found their way into tech companies because they had a desire to see innovation correctly applied in their industries.

In fact, I’m one of them.

To tell you the truth, there was a time when I was very apprehensive about integrating technology with the art space.

I saw people glued to their screens and missing out on human interaction, and it rubbed me the wrong way. I wanted to keep a barrier between the thing I loved and the constant acceleration of tech.

My conversion came about two years ago when I began learning about blockchain on my own. I had an academic art background, so I began to imagine how the technology could be applied in the art world.

As I continued educating myself, I realized something important — this trending technology was already being implemented in the art world, though at more of an experimental level.

I knew as an artist, I had two choices.

I could either be a part of creating and shaping how tech affected the art world, or I could resist, be resentful, and eventually watch as someone else made decisions about the future and prescribed it to the masses without their knowledge.

I chose the former because I wanted to take an active role in guiding the application of blockchain and other emerging technologies to make legitimate improvements for the art world.

My personal goal, and that of the Blockchain Art Collective, is to use knowledge and connections to help guide the blockchain art space in a positive manner.

I’ve been making art since I came out of the womb. It’s always been a natural part of my life, something I pursued throughout childhood without really having to think about it.

I ended up majoring in Philosophy and Studio Art while in college at Colgate University, with a focus on painting and drawing. I also studied National Identity and the Arts in India for a semester during that time.

But I decided I didn’t want to start down the traditional road of the “starving artist.”

I had always been interested in creating and shaping physical spaces, so I started interning for a local architect and an interior designer.

After graduation, I moved to New York and began working for a commercial real estate company. From there, I spent several years at a large firm that managed the building, planning, design, construction, and operation of cultural institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Studio Museum of Harlem, and others around the greater New York City area.

And then, I spent almost a year traveling on my own throughout Central and South America, and Asia.

At the end of that year, I began putting out feelers in industries I wanted to be involved in that went beyond physical space and were more aligned with art and tech.

One of the many people I reached out to was a friend-of-a-friend from college who was the co-founder of a blockchain company called Chronicled. So, I began educating myself on blockchain and then reached out.

I had an interest in technology, but it wasn’t until working for Chronicled that I truly dug into the applications and implications of blockchain use cases for art.

When I joined the team in early 2017 as their Director of Product Marketing, we were working on a solution to authenticate art using AI, IoT, and blockchain.

Eventually, as the company got more deeply embedded in rolling out trusted global supply chain solutions, we decided to establish the Blockchain Art Collective (BAC) in early 2018 — and I became the Executive Director.

The job has come with its highs and lows.

I still vividly remember going around to 60 or so galleries in New York in the Lower and Upper East Side, Chelsea, Bushwick, Williamsburg.

Not a single person knew about blockchain or what it could do, and only a few had heard of bitcoin.

Of course, the space has blown up in the year and a half since then, and more people are interested in the technology and want to get involved in an unprecedented way. It has been quite the journey, but it’s been an amazing, interesting, and humbling experience.

Now, our team is helping define how technology is used in the art world.

My attitude toward art and technology shifted because once I saw the potential in tech, I couldn’t un-see it.

The BAC is built around the idea that we can use new technology like blockchain to benefit the ecosystem as a whole — artists and institutions included. Our one-to-one, tamper-evident, and encrypted physical-digital link improves the not-so-unfamiliar barcoding system for managing any volume of art assets by combining the role of the artist’s signature, a physical or digital certificate of authenticity, and a physical or digital catalogue raisonné into a single, secured identity that can stay with an artwork over the course of its life.

Additionally, we can now connect that unique artwork with a rich digital life that protects its authenticity, tracks its provenance, and unlocks new vehicles for artists and arts institutions to monetize their artworks.

The BAC isn’t an attempt at replacing anything. It’s not technology for the sake of technology.

We’re simply augmenting what’s already there with something new that adds genuine value to the entire art world and really creates a place of trust.

With more trust for makers, buyers, and sellers in the art market, the barriers to participating in it are lowered, and the volume of people benefitting from and participating in it grows.

The technology is here. There’s no turning back now. And if we come together as an ecosystem — the entire art world together, from artist to institution — we can determine for ourselves how that technology is used.

Thanks for reading!

Our team at the Blockchain Art Collective wants to make sure art world changemakers and innovators — whether individuals or institutions — are having an impact on this growing ecosystem.

Sound like you? Fill out the form to apply to the Blockchain Art Collective Working Group.

Blockchain Art Collective

Art Provenance in the Digital Age

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