Galleries and museums are integral parts of international culture, yet in a time when the world is reeling from a pandemic and social distancing, the arts are suffering. Covid forced galleries and museums to shut their doors, leading to a complete halt in visitors and more importantly, income. In 2020, the market value for the global arts industry reduced by 22%, down from $64.4 billion in sales in 2019 to $50.1 billion. Technology, namely mixed reality, could transform the way traditional arts and artefacts are experienced going forward, and save the industry.
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and augmented reality (AR) products are quickly rising to popularity and becoming increasingly understood by the mass market, with virtual reality (VR) and AR now household terms. Mobile technology is ingrained into our lives, so it is a natural progression that digital experiences will take over the arts industry too.
Digital solutions such as desktop AR and mixed reality could be the answer to the challenges faced by the arts. By taking simple images of a physical piece, virtual representations of any artefact can be formed. People can view them as holographic images from the comfort of their homes and get a unique, personal perspective of art and history. Without the restrictions of velvet ropes and glass tanks, those who choose to soak in culture can do so with a 360 view of their desired object.
NFTs represent one-of-a-kind entities that function as a source of ownership over a virtual image. They are designed to prove a collector’s ownership over a particular digital item, as well as giving artists the chance to sell art for which there may not be a thriving physical market.
World-renowned digital artist Beeple has recently highlighted just how prevalent NFTs are becoming within the arts and culture sector, through selling his unique collection entitled “Everydays — The First 5000 Days” as an NFT for $69 million. This landmark digital sale highlights the opportunity for financial success, if the arts and augmented reality universes collide. In a similar sense, museums across the globe have digitised 7,500 3D images of their collections yet are at loose ends as to what to do with these images. Some museums, however, have started to make use of augmented reality; The Smithsonian, for example, has developed software that brings items from the Bone Hall back to life, yet there are still many museums failing to make the most of this technological movement.
Mixed reality presents financial solutions to struggling galleries and museums
Museums are typically publicly owned, getting most of their funding from taxes and donations, but the recent economic downturn has led to underfunding of the arts and culture sector. A UN report recently highlighted that 43% of museums faced closure in the first quarter of this year. NFTs can be an extremely lucrative opportunity for these institutions to upscale their revenue streams.
Museums and galleries which are currently facing financial shortcomings may find sanctuary in becoming accustomed to the digital collectables market through selling NFTs. Whilst it may be easy to pass off NFTs as just another passing technological fad, there are tangible economic benefits to adopting them long term.
These institutions are sitting on an abundance of artefacts, perhaps collecting dust, which could simply be waiting to be digitised and sold to generate additional income. Financing these objects as NFTs will in turn ensure income to cover operating expenses for the museum as a whole, whilst saving them the insurance costs of moving artefacts internationally, as they will exist digitally. Once a piece is tokenised and firmly minted on a blockchain, those NFTs can be sold, and as often is the case in the collectables community, they will be sold for respectable sums of money.
It is not solely the institutions that will reap the financial benefits of mixed reality projects, artists will too. The trading of NFTs is a transparent process, and creators have the option to receive percentages of future resales of their work, which is impossible for physical art sales.
NFTs meet the consumer demand for digital viewings
Seeing that footfall is at an all-time low for museums and galleries, there is a growing global demand for virtual methods of viewing artefacts. If institutions decide to utilise augmented reality software, they have the option of sharing their items internationally, for an entirely new and extensive audience to bear witness to. NFTs also offer each valuable item a form of preservation.
From immersive experiences in-house to at-home desktop AR facilities, museums and galleries can utilise augmented reality to provide an entirely new perspective on their historical pieces and meet the wider demand for digital entries into the culture they have to offer. This demand is also mirrored by artists themselves, who are desperate for income and are keen to utilise NFTs and mixed reality to disseminate their work to a wider audience.
From million-dollar trades to desktop AR bringing history and culture into people’s homes through their screens, there is a technological revolution afoot. Static art is being drawn into the mixed reality universe, and it might just have the power to save the industry.