Can This Social Network Solve Artists’ Financial Woes?

A drawing from Dada’s ‘Creeps and Weirdos’ collection. Dada

There are many questions that artists have at the outset of their careers: Where can I show my work? How do I finance my practice? Where do I find potential buyers? Though many aspire to make a living from their art, when starting out, the prospect is more like a pipe dream.

Now, a social media site for artists says it has a way to make that goal more of a reality by transforming artworks into “digital assets,” allowing them to be purchased or rented through the use of cryptocurrency. Based in New York City, Dada plans to formally launch this ambitious project in January.

According to Dada’s founder and chief executive officer, Beatriz Helena Ramos, the company was started in 2014 with the idea of “creating a platform for people to have conversations using visual images.” Artists go onto the web site, draw something exclusively using Dada’s own online art tools, and it is hoped and expected that artists elsewhere reply with other images that play off the first artist’s drawings. “It’s a way of doing collaborative art,” she said, “a social way of making art.”

So far, the site contains over 100,000 drawings or, as Ramos describes them, “the largest collection of provably rare digital artworks in the world, ready to be traded as non-fungible tokens.”

Last year, Dada began selling images from its Creeps & Weirdos collection as a proof of concept. During that period, 700 images were sold for a total of 15 ETH (using the cryptocurrency Ethereum). Though that’s currently exchangeable for roughly $1,300 at $90 per coin, at its height, this time last year, Ethereum was worth about $1,400 a piece.

While most works during the trial were traded for under $10, at least three have sold for $1,000. The January launch will expand the roll-out to all of the growing supply of images, and Ramos explains “people will be able to license any of our drawings using smart contracts.”

Those “smart contracts” (a code associated with each that tracks primary and secondary market sales, as well as rental arrangements) represent the new technology that turns a shareware platform into a potential money-making business venture. To date, a small group of investors—including Ramos, Yehudit Mam (a creative director and writer) and several companies in the tech field, like ConsenSys, a company specializing in decentralized technology—have invested $800,000 in Dada. The bulk of that money has gone to a team of designers and web developers; Dada has not yet seen any return on investment.

But not only does this start-up see its way to a profitable future, so too should starting-out artists, Ramos claimed. When an artist’s drawing is sold or licensed for use on products (such as T-shirts or album covers) or in advertising, the artist who did the original image receives 70 percent of the proceeds, while the remaining 30 percent is divided among the entire Dada community, which currently consists of 160,000 registered users (mostly artists, consumers and people Ramos calls “appreciators”). If the artist’s drawing had been shared and commented on by other users, then their cut is also shared with those who contributed to the conversation (10 percent is distributed among the commenters, leaving the artist with 60 percent. The artist and entire Dada community get paid again if a buyer of an image resells it at a profit, with 60 percent of the profit going to the seller, 20 percent to the artist and the remaining 20 percent to the community.

The only artwork they artists may sell on Dada is what they have produced on the web site. They may not upload works that they created in their own studios, which Ramos called “personal art,” to be sold on Dada. For that reason, the platform is more likely to appeal to younger, less experienced artists than to those whose artwork exists as actual physical objects and that may have their own collectors.

While initial prices so far have proven to be quite low, and the best prospect for income is if images are resold or relicensed repeatedly and at ever-higher amounts, there’s certainly a nugget of promise in this model, which allows an artist to start earning right at the start of their career.

Ramos sees this as a viable alternative to the current art gallery system, where “a small percentage of artists gets all the money and everyone else gets nothing,” she said. At a large scale, Ramos believes Dada’s share-the-wealth ethos can contribute to an ecosystem where artists can be more sure of receiving “a basic income, and making a living.” That reality may be a long way off, but working towards the possibility in the future is better than being resigned to it as pie in the sky.

Can This Social Network Solve Artists’ Financial Woes?