Rethinking Provenance, Ownership and the Distribution of Art

How To Build Equitable and Transparent Decentralized Ecosystems for Creatives

If the ongoing pandemic, the ensuing lockdowns, and the temporary freeze on nearly all activities deemed “non-essential” have provided us with anything, it has been the opportunity to to reflect upon the fact that, as a society (speaking from a European perspective), we may very well have been taking our creative liberty and economic privileges for granted.

  • Travel, which was once more accessible than ever before, is now incredibly difficult due to the mounting restrictions on freedom of movement.  
  • Cultural spaces, which once welcomed us with open doors, are now closed and coming under increased financial strain, or starting to disappear altogether. 
  • Art and musical performances, which were once ubiquitous and readily consumable, are once again becoming inaccessible commodities… 

In this new reality, where more and more people are confined to their homes, the engine of our collective imagination is slowly sputtering as the energy we once spent on self actualization finds itself being rerouted towards our very own survival. 

Together, we have never been so alone; and as we gradually become confined to our social bubbles, we find ourselves glued to our screens, which have become our windows to the outside world, longing for a lost connection to a world of imagination. 

Should we just give up hope altogether? You might be tempted to ask yourself… Absolutely not!

Imagination is a Fundamental Human Need

Creatives, whose work and livelihoods were already being undermined by the proliferation of digital piracy and unfair distribution models, are now seeing their avenues for self-expression being cut off at an alarming rate. Yet, imagination remains a  fundamental human need, and it’s precisely creativity which provides the fuel for our imagination. 

When self-actualization comes under siege, it is the intrinsically human qualities of imagination, creativity and ingenuity that will help us to prevail in achieving our higher purpose. We therefore propose to restart the engine of our collective imagination and unite under a common purpose – to pick up the pieces of this broken system and revive the cultural sector!

Together, we have the power to create a more balanced, open source and transparent ecosystem, where creativity can find new footing. 

In order to get started, it is imperative that we take a look at some of the problems currently facing artists and creatives today – which include the following: 

  • A severe lack of funding & general economic precarity
  • A decline of traditional venues to exhibit their works
  • A loss of connection with the audience 
  • The difficulty of telling a story, collaborating or creating a relationship remotely
  • The systems for tracking attribution, provenance, ownership and distribution of creative works are not designed to benefit creators

What Does Decentralization Have To Do With Any of This?

In 2019, the Keyko Dojo ( was founded as a Web 3 studio by a stellar team of Sensei with a familiar organizational culture and a vision to contribute to the decentralization space in a meaningful way: servicing top protocols, creating products like and, in addition to building decentralized communities and ecosystems.

Tracing Keyko’s story to its origins takes us back to 2013, where one of the Dojo’s founding partners, Dimitri De Jonghe, made the leap to decentralization by founding Ascribe, with the purpose of empowering artists to take control over the ownership of their digital works (self-sovereignty in a world where duplication has become the norm). One app built by the team, called “Where On The Net” (pictured left), sought to demonstrate just how prolific the duplication and reuse of images had become on the web – an obvious consequence being the dilution of the value of such a digital asset, not to mention the lack of attribution and opportunity cost for the original creator.  

Ascribe set out to build a protocol – SPOOL(Secure Public Online Ownership Ledger), which allowed more than 5000 artists to register their digital artworks on the bitcoin blockchain to create unique digital editions of their artworks. This was an attempt to introduce digital scarcity of title and ownership on a self-sovereign substrate (the bitcoin blockchain). The company also added functionality for the transferring, consignment and loaning of those rights. 

With about 100k transactions on the bitcoin blockchain, more than 5000 active users, a whitelabel gallery and marketplace software, we truly believe this might have set a precedent for the current crypto arts space that found its home on Ethereum and is driving by standards such as ERC20 (fungible tokens) and ERC721 (Non-Fungible tokens). Ascribe was later decommissioned in 2017 to focus on BigchainDB and ocean protocol, as the crypto arts market at the time was still in its infancy. 

But those times have since changed… 

A Community Begins To Form

Indeed a few months ago, a new project idea began to take hold in Lisbon. It all started at Arroz Estudios, a cultural association and artist residency in Lisbon’s Beato district that provides a venue for creatives to work and freely express themselves. It was there that Dimitri first met Steven Mackay, president of the Arroz Estudios, who highlighted the association’s aspirations and challenges. 


As is the case with many such cultural venues, Arroz Estudios is currently facing the existential threat posed by gentrification and the association is currently in search of a new home as well as a permanent location, which could become an unconditional space for creatives, makers and performers.

Together with other artists and tech enthusiasts, a common vision emerged between artists and technologists to create new opportunities for self expression to be nurtured and for creativity flourish. It started with a few meetups and a dialogue around decentralized technologies, the emergence of DeFi (Decentralized Finance) and how these might be leveraged to create financial inclusion opportunities for artists – along with a few technical workshops on how to  mint works of art on the blockchain, and commercialize them through popular NFT marketplaces such as rarible. 

Art Progression Now: A DAO Is Conceived

Realizing the fundamental importance of creating an independent and decentralized structure for collaboration, the community took it upon themselves to found Art Progression Now a Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO) or a Decentralized Art Collective (DAC)-

These events marked a pivotal moment in the founding of Art Progression Now, which defines itself as a “community of creatives & developers working to advance digital and crypto arts in the interest of artists and the cultural sector”. You can view the contents for these events and learn more about the relationship between art and crypto by visiting the Arroz Estudios crypto art blog. 

Little by little, the community continued to grow, and an increasing number of creatives, artists and organizations began to join the party. Notable early joiners included Mintbase, a platform allowing creators to Mint NFTs on the Ethereum Blockchain, Linum Labs, a software development studio building blockchain and #DeFi products, Metaxu Labs, a talented team of app developers and Loominate, a creative agency providing design services in the Web 3 space, who facilitated the community’s first DAO’s identity workshop in December of 2020.

Rare Effect: An Exhibition Is Curated

Judging from the enthusiasm and growing interest of the community in the topics covered in the workshops – the community began toying with the idea of creating an exhibition. The 10-day event entitled Rare Effect, is to combine the weekly programming of the Arroz Estudios venue with a showcase of international and local artists from both the traditional and crypto art space, including a first ever crypto enabled performance art piece. Ownership and exchange of digital assets, provenance of art, asset tokenization, scarcity and speculation will all become hands-on experiments during this unique interactive event. 

Initially planned as a physical exhibition in the Arroz Estudios venue, with a digital virtual reality twin hosted at the Minbase HQ on Crypto Voxels (a virtual world on the Ethereum blockchain) the exhibition invites visitors to explore our relationship to art through the lens of crypto-economics. Throughout the exhibition, visitors will also be able to interact with the art on display, installations and performances through the use of cryptocurrency and a digital wallet, created by a talented team of d’App developers from Metaxu Labs. 

However, not everything would go according to plan, and a renewed lockdown restrictions forced the team to focus first on the digital release of the exhibition… but the show must go on, and the digital exhibition will launch on February 10th – you can find more information about the event and sign up to attend for free on our facebook page.  

Organized in partnership with Arroz Estudios, Keyko, Linum Labs, Loominate, Mintbase, Metaxu Labs and Crypto Briefing – all innovators in the Web3 and DeFi space with a passion for culture and the arts – this exhibition will showcase international and local artists from both the traditional and crypto art space.

It is our hope that you will join us in this experiment, as we explore how blockchain technology has the potential to create a fairer marketplace for artists, and how it may fundamentally change our approach to ownership and distribution of art!

Article written by Jesse Steele, inspired from interviews with Dimitri De Jonghe