Have you noticed the term “NFT” popping up in news feeds over the past few years? The seemingly cryptic acronym has been gaining momentum of late, transitioning from tech-heavy digital spaces to the mainstream.
NFT stands for “non-fungible token,” a digital asset that’s as irreplaceable as a work of art and exists on blockchain technology (a decentralized public ledger of financial transactions). NFTs have become sort of revolutionary in the art world, allowing artists and digital content creators to earn new revenue and to connect globally through virtual communities.
Confused? Curious? A collective of NFT artists, collectors, and enthusiasts called NFTxCincinnati is hosting UNFIT, an immersive art gallery and exhibition that seeks to educate newcomers and engage the local NFT community. NFT works will be featured from artists around the world, and there will be panel discussions with experts to shed more light on the industry and the medium. The event takes place February 25 and 26 at Sample Space at The Banks. Panel discussions and a gallery party will take place on Friday, and the gallery will be open for final viewings on Saturday.
UNFIT co-curator Andrew VanSickle is a Cincinnati-based artist and photographer who’s been collecting NFTs since 2021. “The values [of NFTs] I see as an artist are certainly the availability of being able to mint, or register, your artwork or edition through the blockchain,” he says. “The cool thing about that is your art is always going to be pristine, minted, and forever. It also gives the artist basically an annuity, in a sense, on the resale of the artwork.”
When an artist sells one of his or her works as an NFT, it becomes a digital piece of content. Yes, it can be viewed by anyone in the digital space, but with it being non-fungible (a.k.a. non-replaceable) only one person can claim ownership. NFT creators earn royalties, too, through each resale.
“If I was selling a physical painting through a gallery and the transaction happened, I would make my cut and the painting would go somewhere on a collector’s wall and that’s it,” VanSickle explains. “The collector has control. They can sell it for a profit and they take the money, and I never see it again.”
Artwork created as an NFT, however, can be viewed by anyone in the digital space and can be bought and sold virtually, and it stays in exactly the same condition forever. Its value is also generated not by artistic institutions but by members of the NFT community themselves—one of the technology’s main draws, Van Sickle says. When an artist releases an NFT for sale, he or she sets a “floor price,” which is the most affordable rate, and then a community of NFT collectors and enthusiasts drive the piece’s value up or down. He likens it to the stock market, in which demand and perceived value are in constant flux.
Take, for example, photographer Isaac “Drift” Wright, one of eight artists being featured at the UNFIT gallery. In his bio, he describes himself as a U.S. Army special operations veteran who’s learned to cope with PTSD through urban exploring. That typically involves scaling various sky-scraping urban structures and capturing photos of the view below him. One of his NFT collections on OpenSea is titled “Where My Vans Go;” piece #104 in the collection was initially listed with a floor price of 10 Ethereum, and its current owner is now asking 871 Ethereum (roughly $2.7 million) for resale.
VanSickle says Wright’s situation is precisely what makes the NFT marketplace for artists so groundbreaking. “Anybody has this opportunity,” he says. “There are new superstars being born through NFTs. A whole different class of people outside of the art institutions is deciding what’s good and what has value.”
UNFIT co-curator Noah Beiting says the community aspect of the NFT world is a major draw for enthusiasts as well. Users can engage in conversation, network with like-minded folks, bond over shared interests, and play a role in creating and supporting projects formed by the community. Community moderators often hold giveaways and raffles as perks as well.
One of the communities Beiting belongs to is Royal Society of Players, “an exclusive NFT community” with “an unmatched collection of 10,000 hand-made NFT playing cards.” In a description of the community’s function and benefit, its website reads, “[T]hese cards are so much more than they appear — they are in fact your keys to the Royal Society. For Players looking to join the next soirée, and connect with your peers both in the metaverse and in real life, we invite you to join the club and mint your cards, which have conveniently been left behind around the room for you to admire, cherish, and collect.”
“Royal Society of Players is a strong community with a lot of Cincinnati members,” says Beiting. “They offer educational resources, live meetups, grants to fund events like ours, and raffles to win prizes and giveaways frequently. Everybody is supportive and kind.”
Beiting has been buying and trading cryptocurrency since 2015 and collecting NFTs since 2021. He says the NFT community in Cincinnati is already strong and hopes that UNFIT will contribute to its growth. One of the first steps is to help educate newcomers about the medium itself, which is why he and co-curators VanSickle and Cincinnati artist Annie Burke organized a series of panel discussions that demystify the world of NFTs. Topics include “NFT 101,” sustaining token market revenue growth, how brands are utilizing the medium, and the architecture of the metaverse.
When asked about how he envisions the local NFT community’s growth and potential, Beiting says, “More physical events. More local members who are a part of global communities. More local artists creating work and building communities to create longevity for their art and themselves.”
UNFIT is free and open to the public. The gallery will be open for three windows of time across the two days. Reservations can be made through EventBrite.