How Blockchain Can Impact Museums?

Diane Drubay
10 min readSep 25, 2018


For the first time since the apparition of the Internet and the online galleries and sales, the art market lives an ecstatic and frenetic revolution: the Blockchain technology and its cryptocurrencies are here! (check this 2min video if you wonder what it is).

Leaders from the art market industry (or the “Arts & Collectibles industry” like people from the Blockchain world like to call it) believe in the value of blockchain to solve some problems inherent to the sector like transparency, trust, security, tracking, and highly centralised model. But even more than solving problems, the blockchain technology, and its culture, create majors shifts in the industry:

  • Art will become scalable thanks to the fractionality of ownership, support, and use. The sharable economy will impact the art industry with shared-ownership and micro-philanthropy, making the democratisation of the art market finally inclusive and global.
  • Artists will be able to make money from their art without any intermediation just by putting their artworks on the market.
  • Digital art will know what is scarcity as traceability and duplication of art won’t be an issue anymore and where sharing creates value.
  • Museum tickets will have a significant value on top of the financial one by assigning a use to each euro spent.
  • Museum philanthropy will be disrupted by a more individualised and loyal model.
  • Collections access will be ubiquitous heading for the next steps of digitisation and virtual museums.
  • Museums and collectors will speak the same collection-management language facilitating collaborations and transactions.
“The Future” by Nadiya Pinchuk (source: BlockchainArt)

How the Arts Market Can Use the Blockchain Technology Today?

This year is marked by an invasion of blockchain and crypto pitch decks, some being creative, innovative, local, bold, you name it…but numerous for sure.

Today, you can buy with cryptocurrencies virtual illustrations of funny cats or frogs as much as fine art, sell artworks on the blockchain or create art directly on it. You can also group all data related to work in a safe and decentralised (origins, owners, restorations, exhibitions, etc.) on its blockchain digital passport. You can become a micro-patron or be the co-owner of an artwork. And if you want to push it further, you can tokenise yourself if you are an artist or even put on sale moments of your life.

For instance, as the first fine art gallery to accept cryptocurrency as payment, Dadiani Syndicate partnered with Maecenas, a platform for blockchain-based auction, to initiate last June the first blockchain-based auction selling one piece: 14 Small Electric Chairs by Andy Warhol. There, the artwork has been tokenised and sold on blockchain to 100 participants; this means the value and the ownership of the artwork have been divided into fractions stored as digital certificates or smart contracts. The participants paid with three cryptocurrencies including the Art Token, a currency created by Maecenas.

The topic is getting so huge in the Arts market that all the most influential actors in the industry gathered in August at Christies London for the first one-day Art+Tech Summit: “Exploring Blockchain — Is the Art World Ready For Consensus?”. From this day, I strongly advise you to watch the speech of Anne Bracegirdle which is the perfect summary of the current state we are in. And last June, Art Basel gathered the foremost blockchain artists for a panel about Blockchain and the Art World.

And for those who want to go deeper, here is a non-exhaustive list of the actors that are changing the arts and museum industry today: Codex Protocol is a decentralized registry system for unique assets like arts, the R.A.R.E. Art Labs is a platform to collect digital art, Oroundo created the “CulturalCoin” to pay to cultural institutions, FRESCO offers an art-trust value distribution with smart contracts and the creation of a network around artworks, Wunder is a blockchain-based decentralized art museum offering membership to access digital arts exhibitions, Museums Chain is a decentralized museum ecosystem which aims to gather all the blockchain-based virtual museums, 0xcert offers a protocol for validating existence, authenticity, and ownership of the blockchain and thus a Certificate of Authenticity, Masterworksio is the first blockchain-based fine art investment platform where you become co-owner of artworks or even Blockchain Art which launched the first Blockchain Art Hackathon. (feel free to reach me if you think some actors are missing 😃)

Extract of the “14 Small Electric Chairs (1980)” by Andy Warhol (source)

The topic is booming in the art market and the artist communities, but what about the museums and heritage sites?

British Museum (source)

Apply the Blockchain Technology to the Museum World.

Like mentioned above, the diversity of uses of the Blockchain technology for museums starts to pop-up. The technology is still new, and the majority of people still don’t understand what is it about. The urge today is to find cases uses to make it more concrete and operational. In the different case studies we see appear for museums, some are good, some need to be tested or modified, some are still floating ideas; But in any case, it’s always good to keep your eyes open and start to foresee where the industry goes.

→ Exhibitions about blockchain or with blockchain-art

The technology itself and its transformation by the art community are the main topics for now for museums. They get curious about the matter, start to integrate it into their exhibitions to give proper explanations to visitors. They are also curious about how artists began very rapidly to invest the Blockchain to create crypto-art, sell it and make millions with it. We start to see exhibitions partly or entirely about Blockchain Art and Crypto Art like “Open Codes” at the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe or the “Proof of Work” opened by the blockchain-centred Distributed Gallery at the Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin two weeks ago.

Distributed Gallery, Chaos Machine, 2018
Courtesy: Distributed Gallery (source)

→ The new era of collection management.

A discussion with Bernadine Bröcker, CEO of Vastari, made me realised how it could still be challenging to organise loans of artworks or exhibitions today. She believes the Blockchain technology could finally change that and bring back trust, transparency, and traceability to the exhibition market. Maybe it’s easy to organise a temporary exhibition between two renowned museums, but when you start to contact private collectors, family members, universities, community associations, things get more tricky. Thanks to the investment of Everledger in Vastari, the company will be able to think about touring agreements like smart contracts and start a precious and trustful database of movements in the arts and museum industries.

It’s also a way to get access to a global online database of our collective arts and heritage worldwide. This is the ideological bet of Museums Chain which aims to gather all the Blockchain-based online art collection or like they say “the first decentralised museum ecosystem”.

Think a little bit further and imagine the combination of the record of our collective heritage put on the Blockchain saved in the Cloud and administrated by artificial intelligence… H. G. Wells already thought about it in his Time Machine published in 1895 😮 Check the scene in the Library from the homonymous movie:

→ A museum cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrencies applied to museums could have a societal impact, change the way we collect archaeological items or the way we buy a museum ticket.

Three years ago, the Guggenheim was way ahead of the game by launching its cryptocurrency and marketplace: the cåi. Organised by Troy Conrad Therrien, Curator, Architecture and Digital Initiatives at the Guggenheim, the online exhibition Åzone and physical installation in New York, offers users to trade, invest in or impact the different futures shaped by the new technologies that are disrupting our society today. Giving a voice to people and the freedom to take action, the project supports values of decentralisation, liberty and giving back power to individuals. Today, we could imagine that this currency could enable people to buy and sell more political or social shares into one’s company or even the museum’s strategical decisions and thus, influence its future.

Last year, Kapu launched the first archaeological coin aiming to change data storage and cultural heritage protection giving it an infinite time and data storage (but also huge carbon footprint 😱) (thanks @ElisaGravil for the reference).

The Austrian company Oroundo launches its CulturalCoin, a cryptocurrency dedicated to cultural institutions to buy tickets, audio guides, tours, and fund projects. By declaring “war to the current ticketing system”, they outline the safety provided by smart contracts each time a ticket is sold using the Blockchain technology to avoid counterfeit tickets and data leaks. Of course, this applies only to significant blockbusters exhibitions which are sold out in just a few days.

→ Give meaning to a museum ticket.

However, what seems relevant for museums in the use of cryptocurrencies is the dematerialised and shared payment of tickets and museums goods. By tokenising the museum ticket, revenue sharing between different actors is facilitated, and the impact of one Euro spent can be measured. For instance, we could imagine that the ticketing revenue of museums could directly profit to the artists exhibited, the renovation of artworks, heritage pieces or learning installations in need, the acquisition of a new piece or even to social or environmental support programs. Museums could give another meaning to a ticket or a tote bag bought in the shop. Buy buying such a ticket; visitors might be willing to pay an extra-amount to support what they value. We saw museums trying different models to fundraise project or acquisition with young patrons programs, crowdfunding platforms, or just by asking to round up the ticket price up. Crypto could give transparency and the trust some models lack. Buying a ticket could be seen as an act of micro-patronage.

Mixing the data analytics of the visitor journey with the blockchain technology could allow museums to redistribute the financial value of each ticket to the pieces they preferred or catch most of their attention. We could imagine after visite messages like this:

“Thank you Tom. You liked this installation and stayed 15 minutes in front of it during your visit so we will give x% of your ticket’s value to the collectif who created it”.

But, we should also be aware that this makes each artworks becoming attention competitors changing the job of curators and scenographers according to this attention economy.

Let’s go a little bit further. If the visitor buys a ticket using the cryptocurrency of the museum, decides to support the renovation of a work or a heritage site via his purchase, the ticket will be by definition a smart contract. Such an agreement could enable the traceability of the impact of his acquisition making him more connected to the piece and its evolution in time — when the renovation will be over, where the artwork will be exhibited, etc. Creating this special connection allows the visitors to become a fan or even more, a micro-patron giving him the possibility to receive personalised news and maybe support more financially the artwork. The Blockchain technology can disrupt museum philanthropy and business models making them more individualised and loyal.

“Blockchainified Joconde”

→ Apply the sharing economy to the museum industry.

Young generations like to give meaning to what they do and what they buy, they don’t care about ownership. The Blockchain technology follows these new behaviours and could even create new ones.

The Dutch startup Wunder believes in the power of art tokenisation to create the first Blockchain-based museum where artists invited in the exhibitions receive a commission from the patrons or members of the platform. Members would have access to the temporary exhibitions presented along the year or can become patrons by investing in the artworks, becoming co-owners, stream the piece, use it digitally or even sell their fractions.

Can we apply the same model to physical museums and imagine a museum collection owned by the public and only managed by the museum? We see more and more community-based museums popping-up and States disengaging from their museums, is the future going to give our heritage back to people? Is that the time where the notion of “shared-museum” gets its meaning? We are talking about crowdsourcing and crowdfunding a museum or an exhibition but could we also talk soon about crowd-investing and crowd owning a museum? Is that the birth of total museum inclusion, complete circularity, where we see the beginning of peer-to-peer applied to the museum’s exhibitions and products?

Thank you to Bernadine Bröcker from Vastari, David Dehaeck from Wunder, Patrick Tomelitsch from Oroundo and Alexandre Poltoratzsky from Vivaticket for our great and inspiring chats! 🌟

This is a discussion paper prepared for a panel to be held during Museum Connections 2019 next 16/17 January in Paris.



Diane Drubay

Founder of @wearemuseums. Co-founder of @alterhen. Arts & Culture for the Tezos ecosystem. Visual artist nudging for nature awareness.