Phase 1, Research – February 2019–March 2021
Phase 2, Development – May 2021–March 2022
Phase 3, Implementation – April 2022–Ongoing
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.
Watch the Launch Live Stream Series
Developed by Lead Designer, Christy Nyiri, the identity starts with the typeface Standard by Benoît Bodhuin, letterforms are modified to create a square B, and to emphasize chain-like structures in other characters. The rigid, grid-spaced letters combine and contrast with a variable-width ampersand to create a dynamic wordmark that can be arranged to fit a variety of spaces, and the ampersand’s fluid lines inspire graphic treatments in page layouts. See More
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
With over two years of research, consultation, education and learning programming completed, 221A’s Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Digital Strategy moves into a development period in 2021/22. For this, 221A continues to work with several of its researchers and organizational partners to produce development planning.
The first initiative is with one of its research partners, DOMA, who continue on with 221A as Research Fellows in 2020-21. DOMA is a non-profit platform cooperative envisioned in anticipation of blockchain technology’s broader adoption. Through a shared ownership platform for equitable access to urban space, DOMA bridges the great divide between rentership and ownership. By leveraging the principles of the new token economy to support a cooperative model of networked property ownership and access, the platform can enable a fairer distribution of value for urban living. They have taken a particular interest in Vancouver’s property market, being on the spear’s edge of the speculative property bubble endemic to many global cities. For their fellowship, DOMA has been developing a closer study of the Lower Mainland of British Columbia’s housing market, in partnership with the Centre for Spatial Technologies (Kyiv). Together, they are creating a digital dashboard with a rich array of interrelated data sets, modeling an affordability index and platform narrative. This research provides insights towards the methods we can collectively leverage to diversify the housing tenure of the city.
221A will also pursue use case implementation with its Editorial Director and Principal Researcher, Rosemary Heather, to further develop 221A’s potential within the emerging blockchain proof-of-stake consensus algorithm. Staking enables community network ownership, whereby members help manage and profit from a network by running nodes, and through interest earning “stake” deposits of network native tokens. Staking has become a much-anticipated alternative to blockchain mining through its proof-of-work protocol; the first and current backbone of the technology, which is criticized for being overly time, data and energy consumptive. The overall potential for staking pools to nurture the mass collaborative potential of the blockchain was swiftly advanced in early 2021, with the popularization of NFTs or non-fungible tokens, as well as social tokens and distributed autonomous organizations (DAOs).