Lifetime Token Payments As Next Form of Arts Funding?

There has been an ongoing conversation in the visual arts world about the issue of an artist selling a work for $250, having it sell for $2500 five years later and then $25,000 five years after that due to the hype that has built up around their work, but the artist not benefiting from any of that.  The only thing that was added to the work to make it worth so much more than at the time of creation was a lot of hype and speculative manipulation to make it so.

There have been a number of ideas floated about ways to provide an artist a royalty of some sort every time a work is resold, but that depends on the work beings sold publicly and a lot of good will on the part of the sellers to remit the proper amount to the artist or their estate.

Or at least that is true for physical works of art. The was an article in Art Newspaper that discussed the use of non-fungible tokens (NFT) which accompany digital works as they are traded among different owners. Each time the work changes hands, the artist receives a royalty. Currently this process, including the payment, is all based in cryptocurrency technology—a medium whose value and stability fluctuates to far greater extremes than the art market. A royalty of $50 today could be worth 50 cents tomorrow and $5,000 next month.

There is a somewhat more complete explanation on this site, along with some art based examples (i.e. William Shatner digital collectibles will earn the erstwhile Star Trek captain royalties for years to come.)

While the technology and payment vehicles need further development to make them easier to use on a broader scale, I envisioned something like this being a way for performing artists and organizations to monetize digital content they create in the future.

I suspect the tools to do so will be widely available  and easy to use once big players in the entertainment industry like Disney realize the potential revenue stream available from issuing limited edition releases of content. Unlike the copy blocking encoding that made legitimately purchased recordings and games incompatible with DVD players and computers, companies will want this content passed around a lot if it means they can collect a royalty or create a profile of the people who are using and trading it.

If it works well for digital content, I am sure someone will figure out a corresponding method to apply to physical and live works.

This may put the same tools in the hands of artists and others in the creative industry and shift the dynamics of how we do business and interact with participants/consumers.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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