Power dynamics are shifting as we move into Web3
Is the decentralised nature of Web3 a new hope for artistic freedoms?
There is a gap between artistic freedom in theory and practice in the information technology age we live in. This gap is defined by a grand dilemma: Technology is an opportunity to empower, but at the same time also a tool to constrain, harass or even oppress the artist. We have seen how grand online platforms for music, film, contemporary art, and litterature have propelled many otherwise little known artists to find an audience – but at the same time this has made them dependent on new regimes; the very platforms themselves. These platforms now own the data-driven insights, the relationship to the audience, the censorship power and, in essence, full control over the artist. In addition, historically, technology has never been evenly accessible: Politically oppressed and poverty-stricken artists have been marginalised from participating in the internet revolution. A fact that has moulded the fabric and dominant culture of the internet into an anglo-centric, often non-inclusive space defined and exploited largely by the desires of large shareholder-owned corporations, often based in the USA and China.
The decentralised nature of Web3 (the protocol on which blockchain is based) holds the potential to generate a fair, transparent and inclusive ecosystem of exchange that can benefit the entire artistic community.
While Web2, the internet we know today, is run from servers owned by big tech companies, Web3 is a decentralised web, where nonentity can control, shut down or censor the
content. Cases are emerging that show the potential of the decentralised web. Signals from the Global South display how artists finally gain access and fair remuneration for their work. The collaborative platform AfghaNFT empowers grassroots artists from around the world to help each other both financially and emotionally in places that lack technical, legal or cultural frameworks for sustaining an artistic practice (like Afghanistan). They can display and monetize their work in an environment owned and governed jointly by themselves. In essence, a self-owned, decentralised social media platform centred around the purpose of empowering and funding marginalised artists to sustain themselves.
But this new-found potential for artistic freedom can not be taken for granted. In practice, we are already seeing the idea of access for anyone starting to derail; mainly because Web3 still suffers from a high technical learning curve. As a result, new users naturally flock around easy-to-use platforms created by first-moving Web3 companies, who have managed to monetize their early success in trading Web3 assets; so-called tokens. They have been successful in creating large publicity campaigns to attract newcomers, including the artistic space. These platforms now sit in hegemonic positions of control, similarly to what we’ve seen in Web2.
Through decentralisation many of the legal, technical and cultural types of censorship we see today are removed. But we need cultural institutions and policy makers to invest proper time and willingness in engaging with Web3. Intermediaries who can conciliate between the two fields are needed to legitimise and implement the use of Web3 services. Otherwise the decentralised infrastructure will maintain its position as obscure and irrelevant for the artistic community.