WAC Resources

What Are The Opportunities of Web3 for Museums?

Primer on Blockchain for Museums
We’ve seen that institutions adopting web3 have several factors to think about: financial, technological, cultural, and regulatory.

As we’ve seen at various events in the past year, throwing some NFTs up on televisions around the room makes for a bad experience.

“NFT art” could come in many forms from .jpegs, to animations, 3D models, or on-chain computations. In many cases the NFT shouldn’t inform the exhibition format at all. At the NFT Biennial we saw displays from 20ft tall screens, to VR headsets, to exhibitions designed in metaverse spaces accessed from the web browser. As with “traditional” digital art, the exhibition format should be determined by what the artist and the work wants, and the journey the curators want the visitors to have.

In Kunsthalle Zürich’s Do Your Own Research exhibition we’ve seen an institution studying the brief cultural history of web3 and making that history tangible to their audience. In the early days of web3 it was a small community with similar ideas, but as more people have come in that culture has broadened significantly.
If an institution wants to approach a crypto-native audience, understanding who they’re talking to is important.

It’s one of the challenges institutions like Opéra de Paris and LACMA have had adapting to a more engaged, two way conversation on social media platforms like Discord. Spinning up a space like that requires some dedicated community management, so doing it for one limited-scope NFT project is a lot of work for one launch or exhibition.

Community Building
One of the early wins for web3 is the tools it gives people to do online community in ways that aren't possible in Web 2.0. Even if the community is mainly chatting on a Web 2.0 platform like Discord, its on-chain foundation transcends any one platform except for the blockchain itself.

So for membership engagement and marketing staff at institutions, web3 could solve problems like platform lock-in while improving engagement. But wherever it's situated, "web3 social" is much more of a two-way conversation than a one-to-many broadcast platform like Instagram. This is a great opportunity, but it introduces challenges around moderation and community management. In our section on web3 communities, we'll introduce what you need to know to make a successful web3 community.
Building a more persistent on-chain membership list as part of their digital offering is something Opéra de Paris have been thinking about, but they’ve entered the space exploring web3 as a fundraising mechanism. While it should be clear by now that NFTs aren’t a viable get-rich- quick scheme, the financial primitives built into blockchain give institutions a lot of room to experiment, whether that’s something like revenue splits, fractional ownership, or DAO-style collective governance of which projects get funded.

When used properly, web3 and blockchain technology can also have a positive impact on museums' environmental and social goals.

NFT-based approaches to fundraising and revenue-sharing have been used in climate and conservation projects to raise money in a much more long-term, sustainable way than one-off initiatives with a high "marketing" cost. Projects like Meta History Gallery and Worldwide Whales use NFTs revenue-sharing aspect to fundraise for causes like historical landmarks and ocean conservation, and use web3's community tooling to raise awareness more effectively than they would otherwise.

Between the Whitney Museum, Buffalo AKG, and Musée Granet we see museums figuring out how to integrate web3 into their internal processes out of necessity.
We see web3 literacy becoming an essential part of the digital collection process, whether the institution is seeing the NFTs as artworks or documentation.

We don’t have established best-practices around collecting and preserving artwork registered on-chain. What we do have is over 25 years of practice around Time-Based Media (TBM) art conservation, which gives us a lot of transferable knowledge we can apply to on-chain work. As we’ll see, some of these ideas run counter to ideas in the web3 community around “immutable” storage and perfect consensus: mutability is arguably central to long-term preservation of digital works, which might need to be moved from one system to another, and preservation might mean running one’s own fork of a blockchain that diverges from the main network.

Audience Engagement
We’ve also seen museums offer a “live minting” experience where visitors are guided through the process of minting an NFT, often on a fast, inexpensive chain like Tezos. This is a good way to educate visitors about the technology being used in the exhibition, but it’s also a way to turn interactive, generative art displays into something more permanent and tangible. That’s especially appealing if the work takes input from the visitors, such as responding to their movements.

Live minting was one highlight of the web3 displays at Miami Art Week. At Random International’s Living Room installation, we saw visitors minting video NFTs based on their own movements, which in turn contributed to one “collaborative” piece influenced by all visitors to the booth. At Tezos’ booth with the generative art platform fx(hash), we live minting displays that let visitors take home their own variations of the pieces.