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What can blockchain do for the digital art world? Can it restore value to works that can, by nature, be instantly and freely replicated? One group of artists thinks so, and on Saturday January 13th they’re holding the first Rare Digital Art Festival in New York City.

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The festival kicks off at 9AM at Rise New York in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, featuring a number of speakers prominent in the creative technology space.

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“Digital scarcity” and ownership is an issue that’s been around as long as the internet. It’s the main reason real digital currency didn’t exist until Bitcoin came along nine years ago.

Projects like Rare Pepes, CryptoKitties and game-oriented collectables like Spells of Genesis have explored the concept of non-currency, non-business blockchain assets further.

These assets live on multi-function platforms like Counterparty and Ethereum. Given they’re creative works, maybe it was time to extend into art generally.

Lesser-known groups (at least in the cryptocurrency industry) are already doing this. They include visual art-based social network DADA and R.A.R.E. Art Labs.

Why Not Have a Rare Digital Art Festival?

It was Joe Looney of Rare Pepe Wallet that first suggested a festival though, with this tweet late last year:

hey @larvalabs @CryptoKitties @myrarepepe @SpellsofGenesis @ageofchains @PowerDada and anyone else i'm forgetting, I think its about time to have a conference devoted to crypto collectibles. maybe @fredwilson and @aweissman can host

— Joe Looney (@wasthatawolf) December 3, 2017

R.A.R.E. immediately began organizing the event, pulling together the founders of DADA, Age of Chains, Cryptokitties, Cryptopunks, Decentraland, Spells of Genesis, and many more.

Blockchain-based digital art is probably where digital art itself was in the late 80s and early 90 — still a conceptual niche that attracts interest as much for its novelty value as its actual quality. Hence the prevalence (so far) of memes, cats, and a focus on game assets. This festival will highlight the fact that the collectable digital creative field is much wider.

However it’s not really the art itself that’s the issue here, but the way it’s distributed. If the system works well and can bring digital artists attention and money, talent will rush in.

“Turban Man” by DADA member Thaumatropio What’s the Appeal of Blockchain Art and How Does it Help Artists and Fans?

Bitsonline asked festival organizer (and digital ID startup Alloy founder) Tommy Nicholas about what blockchain tech could actually do for artists. Does rarity and proof of ownership mean you can control who displays or distributes a digital visual work?

“The purpose of owning rare digital art is not to be the only person who can see it, he said. “It’s not about hiding the art from the world and being the only one who can experience it. The purpose is to collect the art because you find it meaningful and authentic.”

“Anyone can listen to any song on Spotify, but only a few people own signed authentic copies from the artist. Those signed, authentic copies are valuable and collectible, so it is with rare digital art.”

Outsiders might still struggle to understand how a work gains its value, though. Looking at the catalog of Rare Pepes, it’s initially confusing for a beginner to see how some memes command a high price while others are cheap.

Then again, many would say the same about the art world in general. But that’s not the issue, Nicholas said.

“Focusing too much on the price

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