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What the heck are NFTs? [+ Steering shoutout]

Updated: May 9, 2023

By now you’ve probably heard of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), but might not have a clue about what they are or why they matter to local artists.

Or maybe you’re a creative professional who wants to understand the ownership, copyright and artistic implications of NFTs but can’t find useful resources.

Unfortunately a lot of information about NFTs is impenetrable, because it’s been created by and for tech bros - typically men who already work in the tech sector Metaverse.

The dynamic duo behind art.Biin want to change this by helping community-based artists and non-tech folks understand what NFTs are and how to create them. artBiin is an informal artist collective with Juan Ramirez and Laura-Beth Keane (one of our Steering Committee members!)

Working at the intersection of art, design, and technology, they focus on collaboration and accessibility by creating interactive artwork, programs and exhibits.

In May 2021, we partnered with art.Biin on an Ask Me Anything (AMA) webinar. You can watch the recording of that session here.

Juan and Laura-Beth talked about:

  • What are non-fungible tokens (NFTs), blockchain technology, and cryptocurrency

  • Why this technology matters to artists, whether or not they create NFTs

  • How to create an NFT collection

  • Where to find project inspiration and resources

  • Q+A to ask all your NFT-related questions

What is a blockchain?

Simply put, a blockchain is a string of digital “blocks” that contain information. Think of it like a unique serial code.

When you exchange Bitcoins, or any cryptocurrency, you’re using blockchain technology to capture the sender, receiver and the amount of coins - just like you would have done before the internet with pen and paper in a ledger book.

What are Bitcoins? FYI - Bitcoin is the name of a type of cryptocurrency, just like how Kleenex is a brand name of facial tissues. So when we use the term “Bitcoin,” we usually mean “cryptocurrency.” To keep things simple, we’re going to use “crypto” to talk about all cryptocurrencies, even though there are some technical differences between them.

Unlike Canadian dollars or the VISA bill you’ve been ignoring for months, crypto doesn’t require financial institutions to change hands. Cryptocurrency exists outside of the traditional banking system and is exchanged using blockchain technology.

What is a Non-Fungible Token or NFT?

The word “fungible” means interchangeable and refers to products that are so similar they’re essentially the same. For example, toothpicks are pretty fungible. You can mass produce them and can’t tell one from the other.

“Non-fungible” means that something is absolutely unique. It can’t be replicated, copied or mass produced. The original Mona Lisa painting is non-fungible.

Non-Fungible Tokens or NFTs are digital tokens that live on a blockchain and represent ownership of unique items. Just like a certificate of authenticity, only held much more securely and transparently.

Why should I learn about NFTs?

NFTs are really cool, but there are a lot of ways the technology could be improved. For example, mining Bitcoin is really, really bad for the environment. It uses a ton of energy and produces greenhouse gasses out the wazoo.

NFTs also raise a lot of red flags around capitalism, market manipulation, copyright, ownership and a host of deeply problematic issues. But, we suspect that the technology behind them is likely here to stay in one way or another and we need more non-tech bros diverse minds to help improve the technology in creative ways.

For the average artist, knowing about the potential of a digital tool that assigns clear creator ownership, gives artists undisputed copyright protection and pays out royalties every time an item is bought and sold - well yeah, we think those are some things all artists should at least be familiar with.

NFTs have the potential to democratize the art market, bring greater artistic diversity and foster community. And that’s a Metaverse we definitely want to be a part of.

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