Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks


2019 – 2023

Project Flow

  • Phase 1, Research – February 2019–March 2021
  • Phase 2, Development – May 2021–2023

    Outcome: The Node Library

Initiative Objectives

Several years ago, 221A envisioned a new kind of institution and shifted its operating model away from a presenting organization, to that of an institution capable of context-rich research that leads towards the development of emergent cultural, social and ecological infrastructures. Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks (BACP) sits squarely within this new framework. Supported by the Canada Council for the Arts Digital Strategy Fund, this multi-year initiative gathers a cross-sectoral network of researchers, advisors and partner organizations around the emergence of the blockchain, to interrogate and speculate on its social, cultural and ecological use cases, and advance its development as an institutional technology for civil society.

As outlined in its Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Research Report, published in May 2021, 221A sets out a number of values and goals for its digital strategy:

  • Strive for an equitable mix of public, private and self-generated revenues to bolster 221A’s ability to lead;
  • Prioritize access and diversity of engagement, keeping simplicity of outcomes for usership in sight; 
  • De-center Western ideology and foster a diversity of design, development and usership;
  • Distribute political and economic power by pursuing projects that promote mutualist and cooperative aims.

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Design Identity


221A’s BACP research development benefited from key partnerships with Blockchain@UBC (Vancouver), Canada’s leading blockchain academic research cluster; New Models (Berlin), pro-complexity media node; the beecoin project (Berlin), DAO organized around the health of urban beehives; DOMA (Paris/Kyiv), non-profit housing platform cooperative; and ChinookX (Pacific Northwest), Indigenous data sovereignty and green energy start-up. The Human Data Commons Foundation (Vancouver), supports the strategy as a communications partner.

Phase 1 Research Cluster - Digital Strategy Report

The initiative assembled a research cluster over two years, and was composed of professionals across culture, design, tech, geography, urbanism, architecture and finance sectors who led 221A to establish a values-based strategy for the emergence of blockchain technologies. Culminating in the publication of a 200-page research report, this research probed blockchain’s potential as an institutional technology, outlined 221A’s key positions and partners, and produced papers surveying our culture’s ability to enable new models for digital cooperativism.

The study leverages cultural and equity-based perspectives, using critical theory, social and economic justice lenses to foreground systemic and ecological imperatives for the technology. BACP’s research papers consider blockchain technology beyond tech startup orthodoxy, and reflects how the technology might capture the imagination—in an art context and beyond. Authors include BACP Editorial Director and art writer Rosemary Heather; artist Julian Yi-Zhong Hou; artist and theorist Patricia Reed; and critical geographer Maral Sotoudehnia. BACP Lead Investigator Jesse McKee also contributes an editorial essay.

Phase 2 Development: Looking Ahead

Project Support

Supported by the Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund

Canada Council for the ArtsThe Goethe-Institut

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks

A four-year digital strategy initiative by 221A that drives research and engages civil society with the challenge of developing a digitally cooperative culture through the advancement of blockchain technologies across cultural, educational and non-profit sectors. The values-led Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks digital strategy works towards recommoning land, data and objects.