Harnessing the value of museum assets with Holographic NFTs
October 13 2021
By Tim Deakin
Exploring how Holographic NFTs can provide museums and galleries with an opportunity to build on their digitisation programmes, make their exhibits more immersive and generate revenue in the process.
Museums went digital in a big way during Covid. But as we move beyond the shadow of the pandemic and appraise the changing digital expectations of audiences – a key topic in MuseumNext’s recent Digital Collections Summit – it is evident that there are now many new platforms, media and potential revenue streams for institutions to explore.
From online learning to at-home exhibitions, museums around the globe are working hard to improve accessibility, experiment with new business models and meet the evolving demands of a public that have changed behaviours dramatically since the start of this decade.
Among the most eye-catching new opportunities available to museums and galleries is undoubtedly that of Non-Fungible Tokens or NFTs.
What are NFTs?
NFTs can be defined as rare collectible digital assets that are registered on that most intriguing of ledgers – blockchain. While blockchain and cryptocurrencies are often shrouded in mystery and frequently misunderstood, the truth is that having an asset logged on a digital database is actually a perfect solution for museums and galleries. Institutions are able to not only digitise their collections but also manage and monitor rights and licences to assets in the digital space.
As Frances Liddell, PhD researcher at the University of Manchester recently explained in a roundtable discussion at the Digital Collections Summit,
“This is really exciting because we can use these tokens to create provenance for digital works, which has previously been difficult to achieve. It also gives us a way to prove ownership and authenticity.”
So, what’s special about Holographic NFTs?
One of the most exciting opportunities in the NFT space that is piquing the interest of cultural institutions is undoubtedly holographic NFTs – or Holo-NFTs. Not only do Holo-NFTs act as digital representations of artworks or artefacts; they also elevate a 2D collection into a more immersive 3D rendering that leaps off the screen using Augmented Reality technology.
As Frances Liddell suggests,
“I personally think that NFTs need to represent something more original than simply a recreation of the artefact. You can play around with the digital; that’s what it is there for. You can play with your collections and provide new value. NFTs allow you to sell that as a sort of limited edition version.”
With the process of digitisation underway in many museums and interest in Augmented Reality experiences growing all the time, the creation of holographic collectable items can generate significant value for museums. Indeed, they can provide audiences with the opportunity to not only appreciate art using immersive technologies but also acquire ownership of digital representations.
At the forefront of this innovation is The Morpheus Project, a platform developed to showcase Holo-NFTs from artists and institutions around the world. The platform has been created by London-based immersive technology company Perception Codes, whose work in Desktop AR has already gained them a reputation for driving innovation in the cultural heritage sector.
As Perception CEO, Dr Sirisilp Kongsilp explains,
“The Morpheus Project allows museums and galleries to digitise their content and exhibit works holographically. Added to this, the fact that the assets are then tokenised allows them to effectively raise funds from these assets.
“It may be that these newly created Holo-NFTs are used as virtual learning resources that can be accessed by a global audience; or for the licensing of exhibition artefacts so that their holographic representations can be used in settings beyond a museum’s own physical premises.
“At the same time, for collectors of holographic NFTs, new and innovative versions of much admired exhibitions can be created and assigned patronage.”
As Frances Liddell suggests, there are a number of areas in which NFTs can work well as an extension of museums’ current approach to digitisation: “Interesting examples include artefacts that have become too fragile or are simply too heavy to transport as part of a toured exhibition.”
Under these circumstances the effective licensing of a holographic NFT could have far-reaching applications, transcending the typical geographical and logistical barriers that may otherwise limit touring.
Similarly, the repatriation of artefacts is a particular hot button topic within museums right now. And the retention of holo-NFTs by those institutions relinquishing artefacts may in some way provide a technology-based replacement for physical artefacts.
Of course, the benefit of a digital representation is that it can also be added to and adapted – introducing new layers of understanding, new treatments or contextual content to enrich the experience and accommodate changes in viewpoints and perspectives.
Intellectual property, rights management and fundraising
Intellectual Property is, of course, a huge area of interest for museums, galleries, and indeed artists and collectors. Through platforms like The Morpheus Project it is possible for institutions to control their rights closely.
Dr Kongsilp says,
“Once a museum digitises or creates a 3D model of a physical object, that model is owned by the museum outright. But they can sell limited rights to collectors or other organisations, enabling third parties to access and use the art in holographic collectable format.
“To use a helpful analogy, it is possible to think of a parallel between NFTs and the music industry. An artist may hold the rights to their own original song, for example, but give another artist the rights to produce a cover version – an iteration that is somewhat different but warrants a royalty to the original artist.”
At the most basic level, NFTs are a commodity, which means that they have potential to generate revenue. Given that months and months of ticket sales have been lost to the pandemic it is entirely understandable that museums and other cultural institutions need to prioritise fundraising efforts that fill holes in the budget and safeguard their futures. Holo-NFTs present institutions with an appealing solution because they serve as both valuable re-imaginings of artefacts and, as tokenised assets, have a in intrinsic value that can be bought, traded and managed effectively.
As Frances Liddell explains, “The connection to the museum is also important. It isn’t just a JPEG; by purchasing an NFT from a collection, someone gets to own a little piece of that museum.”
Looking to the future
So what does the future hold for Holo-NFTs?
There is little doubt that the digitisation of museum assets will continue at pace over the coming months and years. And the need for the preservation of rights and distribution makes the NFT model particularly appealing for cultural institutions who may otherwise feel trepidation about the risks associated with improved accessibility and releasing their assets into the wild.
Indeed, in many ways, an immersive Holo-NFT is the ideal solution for an institution looking to forge ahead in a digital future. Through the likes of The Morpheus Project, museums and galleries can generate 3D holographic representations of artefacts, which expand their online presence, improve accessibility, and generate engaging and immersive user experiences – all while supporting fundraising efforts.
As Dr Kongsilp suggests:
“We hope that Holo-NFTs prove to be a valuable aid for museums, both in financial terms and as a way to preserve artefacts. I also believe that holographic representations of valuable assets goes beyond preservation; it promotes cultural diversity and equality of opportunity – giving people around the world access to artefacts that they can learn about no matter if they are thousands of miles from the original.”
Speaking on the growing accessibility and widespread adoption of the technology required to appreciate Holo-NFTs, Perception CTO Dr Krisada Chaiyasarn says,
“The ecosystem for 3D NFT has never been more ready than now. As 3D mobile phone scanning capabilities have been introduced, anyone can easily create 3D digital models. Additionally, most games and applications are made for VR and AR technologies, which means that we now have so much interesting 3D content available online, unlike a few years ago when the ecosystem was not quite ready. Now, digital and 3D artists are very common in the creative industries, making 3D content ready available for Holographic NFTs.