Street Art On The Blockchain: How Streeth Is Changing The Art Market

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 12: People walk past CryptoPunk digital art non-fungible token (NFT) … [+] displayed on a digital billboard in Times Square on May 12, 2021 in New York City. The image is part of SaveArtSpace’s “Pixelated” public art exhibition which will be displaying 193 of Larva Labs’ CryptoPunks on phone booths, bus shelters, and billboards around New York City during the month of May. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

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“The search for love continues even in the face of great odds.” Author Bell Hooks credits this graffiti slogan as an inspiration for her bestselling book “All About Love: New Visions”. It is also a testament to the power of street art to reflect zeitgeist, elicit strong emotions and drive profound social change. The ancient medium – aren’t the earliest cave drawings a kind of street art? – has undergone two major transformations in recent years: mainstreaming and digitization. When Louis Vuitton released a graffiti-monogrammed bag in collaboration with Stephen Sprouse in 2001, it provided such a jolt to the luxury goods market that Yves Carcelle (CEO at the time) called it “the first milestone in permanent reinvention of our history.” The 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop turned Banksy into a worldwide household name and received an Oscar nomination. Eight years later his physical painting infamously self-destructed onsite once sold for $1.4 million at Christie’s. Street artists are gaining prominence through collaborations with brands while #StreetArt on Instagram has over 60 million images. Even the Louvre endorsed the trend by hosting a stunning optical illusion created around its famed pyramid by JR in 2019. It’s not about cul-de-sac shenanigans and tagging subway cars anymore!

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Blockchain and NFT (non-fungible-token) technologies introduced the world to a whole new way of valuing and collecting art. While some still remain skeptical, major industry players like the historic auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s are pivoting their curatorial and business practices to accommodate the interest. The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia (one of the largest and oldest state collections of art in the world) recently held its first-ever NFT auction. The event raised almost half a million dollars from five lots featuring works by De Vinci, Van Gogh, Monet, Giorgione, and Kandinsky. Luxury fashion brands remain among the new tech’s early adopters with virtual garments supplementing discerning wardrobes. Until now, this particular trend largely bypassed the physical street art given its inherent fragility due to vandalism, weather exposure, and natural deterioration over time. However, this is about to change with the launch of Streeth, the first platform and ecosystem dedicated to trading and collecting street art on the Ethereum blockchain. As Streeth is giving NFTs a real, tangible use case, I caught up with co-founders Marco Calamassi and Danilo De Rosa to learn more about this exciting plot twist in art history. Longtime fintech entrepreneurs and marketing experts (fittingly, with a Polimoda background between them!), they are braving new frontiers in digital creative economies. 

Marco Calamassi, co-founder of Streeth

Courtesy of Streeth

In the age of individualism, how did your partnership come about?  

Marco Calamassi: We are both driven by a passion for art on a personal level and Blockchain on a professional one. It was an organic match. These mutual interests help us stay focused on the success of the project. 

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Danilo de Rosa: We live on two different continents which are equally significant for this venture. Since the Renaissance, Italy has been an art capital of the world. The USA is home to anything innovative, and Miami is one of the key global locations for contemporary art. 

What is the most common misconception about street art and NFTs?

DR: Street art used to be perceived as almost random images created by anonymous artists without any meaning or even talent behind it. We work to change this by providing education and insights to our audience. In the end, EVERY single notorious contemporary artist has started their journey from street art creations. It’s the purest and earliest stage of artistic expression. 

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MC: I think the Blockchain as an underlying technology and the NFTs as a medium, act as a booster for art awareness and art appreciation for the younger generation. Art market is too big of an industry to be swept away by any single force, but it is certainly being revolutionized with NFT. A series of recent NFT auctions have probably been some of the most successful art auctions ever in terms of both the general attention and bidding as well.

Danilo De Rosa, co-founder of Streeth

Courtesy of Streeth

Indeed, street art and cryptocurrencies are typically associated with younger generations. How do you explain their fascination with alternatives to traditional cultural and economic formats?

MC: The digital world has played a crucial role in our lives for a decade already, but what was missing before crypto, in my opinion, was a deeper connection with real world utilities like financial needs, hobbies, barrier-less transactions, etc. Now we are quickly moving towards an Internet of Things society. What we consider a big plus when it comes to street art is its rooted connection to culture, urban living, freedom, and pure creativity. NFTs bring communities together and help those for whom it’s been often hard to tap into “classic” ways of acquisition. 

How is Streeth different from other NFT art platforms?

DR: Streeth is the only art platform exclusively focused on auctioning and minting Street Artworks. Until now it was nearly impossible for street artists to generate sustainable income from their works, and it was very difficult to guarantee street artwork rights in perpetuity. Street art really deserved to find a “monetization” and protection protocol, sooner or later. Also, our NFTs will have state of the art imagery stored on the blockchain since the artworks will be captured using cutting-edge cameras to render them in 2D and 3D. Streeth is the only platform that then acts as a foundation or museum allowing visitors to admire sold/traded Street Artworks inside a fully enabled Virtual Reality space. 

LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 04: Mad Dog Jones’ SHIFT// goes on view as part of ‘Natively Digital: A … [+] Curated NFT Sale’ at Sotheby’s on June 04, 2021 in London, England.The exhibition is on view until 10 June, when the sale closes for bidding. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby’s)

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Getty Images for Sotheby’s

Art industry has fully embraced virtual reality, so is the future of art fully digital?!

MC: The VR craze is happening because digital artists enjoy a first-timer advantage right now. They are closer to all the different technologies which fascinate us all. Like artificial intelligence, for example. However, we strongly believe human-made art is and will always be more valuable than “algorithmic” art. That’s why we are focused on bringing physical street art into this digital world so it can be appreciated by audiences more accustomed to the “digital only” environments. 

DR: Our first NFT drops are based on existing artworks, but shortly we will begin to commission artists with curated themes in key locations. Our collectors and audiences will not only be able to admire the pieces virtually and digitally, but also to travel and admire the street artworks they own in person. We believe Streeth can boost this form of cultural tourism, both domestically and internationally. We are open to collaboration with tourism institutions to define some common plans and initiatives to bring attention to specific, undervalued destinations. Ultimately, digital technologies can and should improve people’s lives in the physical world. 

To succeed in creative digital economies, what is the ratio of tech-savvy, business acumen, and magic or luck? 

MC: I’d say it’s 33% tech-savvy, 33% business acumen and 33% is all about the right timing.

DR: It’s a complex combination of factors. That’s why building the right team is key! Allowing each member to bring valuable expertise to the table. 

What is the most pressing question on your mind right now?

DR: Building “a tribe” around Streeth. We are not a Silicon Valley startup releasing an elitarian product for a niche audience. We are deeply connected to real people with a shared passion for art, creativity, and technology. Any project needs a healthy ecosystem to thrive long term.

MC: Yes, the pressing priority is building an amazing community.

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Author: Stephan Rabimov, Contributor


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