Crypto Collectibles, Museum Funding and OpenGLAM: Challenges, Opportunities and the Potential of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs)

Applied Sciences Journal (MDPI)

Abstract

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) make it technically possible for digital assets to be owned and traded, introducing the concept of scarcity in the digital realm for the first time. Resulting from this technical development, this paper asks the question, do they provide an opportunity for fundraising for galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM), by selling ownership of digital copies of their collections? Although NFTs in their current format were first invented in 2017 as a means for game players to trade virtual goods, they reached the mainstream in 2021, when the auction house Christie’s held their first-ever sale exclusively for an NFT of a digital image, that was eventually sold for a record 69 million USD. The potential of NFTs to generate significant revenue for artists and museums by selling effectively a cryptographically signed copy of a digital image (similar to real-world limited editions, which are signed and numbered copies of a given artwork), has sparked the interest of the financially deprived museum and heritage sector with world-renowned institutions such as the Uffizi Gallery and the Hermitage Museum, having already employed NFTs in order to raise funds. Concerns surrounding the environmental impact of blockchain technology and the rise of malicious projects, exploiting previously digitized heritage content made available through OpenGLAM licensing, have attracted criticism over the speculative use of the technology. In this paper, we present the current state of affairs in relation to NFTs and the cultural heritage sector, identifying challenges, whilst highlighting opportunities that they create for revenue generation, in order to help address the ever-increasing financial challenges of galleries and museums.

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