Sirsu on The Well and Building a Cultural Index On-Chain
“The Well is kind of like my love letter to humanity.”
ZORA: Can you briefly describe The Well? How do you see a cultural index functioning?
Sirsu (The Well): The Well is where the culture lives. It is predicated upon participants of culture contributing their thoughts, curated eye, talents, and support designed to map where we are, who we were, and where we intend to go—an index of culture.
This index functions on two layers: Conversation & Curation. Conversation exists dynamically and in context to the curated works. It offers depth and perspectives from an artist’s peers, fans, or critics. For more visible and active members, these conversations build reputation yielding new opportunities to feature your thoughts on marquee works and editorial content. Curation seeks to find culture no matter where it lives. Works and artists that are not on-chain are just as important as active NFT creatives. Contributions are voted on by a community committee and value is routed to those approved contributions. Soon, we will be responsible for identifying new, groundbreaking movements as they happen.
ZORA: How did your experience as a mixed media artist inform this project?
S: Truth be told, being an artist didn’t really influence The Well. However, as an artist, I could sympathize with the continued frustrations of Black artists and wanted to create a safe space for us to simply be. An environment unfettered by the systemic trappings of industry is what the Well is about—being an artist affords me the freedom to participate as a builder-creative instead of only building.
ZORA: What has building the infrastructure for The Well entailed so far?
Adesuwa (The Well): Well, the team has been amazing. It's taken a lot of work, planning, a lot of fancy UI designing. We currently have about 9 smart contracts, a Twitter bot, and four front ends.
Adeolu (The Well): I'd say creativity, security consciousness, and patience.
Jacob Horne (ZORA): You're as much of a creator of communities as you are a creator in and of itself. And you made it a lot easier for artists to get into the space fast, by helping cover their gas fees and navigating where to mint, how to mint, all of that. How does The Well fit into the universes of communities that you're creating? What do you want to achieve there and how have you been thinking about it as a community?
S: The Well is great because I'd always wanted to find a way to connect with my ancestral roots. I know that because I'm a seventh or eighth-generation Black American, a product of chattel slavery, and all the things that came with it, there's a certain point in my family history that I'm not able to retrieve. We were largely undocumented on purpose, or we were put down as property, so we didn't actually have names. We were numbers.
Because of all of the failures in trying to figure out my own ancestral history, I was always curious to see if there could there be a method that we could build that at least takes what we have now and immortalizes that. So 100, 200, 300 years from now, assuming Earth is still moving, and we're still alive, what would people say about the time that we lived in? What would people say about the families we were a part of? What would they say about us? In 300 years, we're all gonna be myths. In 100 years, we'll still be kind of historic. But in 300, we'll be these visages of the past. I think Blockchain has the ability in many ways to be a tool of historical reference.
So The Well is an attempt: an experiment made real, to be a cultural index. And I wanted to start with Black culture because it's the closest thing that I identify with, that I know of, before branching out into all facets of culture. The Well is really kind of a book, or it’s many books. A library of our culture, through entities, through curation of work, through editorial, through the collection, and the patronage and support of these things.
JH: More than just a place to sell, The Well is much more a library, as you said, or museum, or an institution that's creating history much more so than, ‘hey, this is an amazing NFT, let's sell it.’ It's actually asking, what's the context around it? Why might this be important? What's the story behind it? Who is it? And then how do we use the blockchain as a medium to make that as permanent as we can?
S: The Well is kind of like my love letter to humanity. I thought, how can I build something that folks can fork off and say, "I want to craft a story about my life, my community, my people, my family,” whatever, and package it in such a way that folks can later uncover these time capsules when Etherscan sleuthing is on a completely different level than where we're at now, and they find all these old projects. I want people to just really be in awe and discover where they came from.
I’m going to throw it over to Ziggy, my co-founder of The Well. My right hand when it comes to building some amazingly dope stuff in the space.
Ziggy (The Well): The main thing we’ve worked on is getting our collaborative NFT creations to split. That’s the main thing when it comes to creating The Well and the platform. Join our Discord, because we can’t wait for you guys to start using The Well. We’ll get it out as soon as we can.
S: Splits are amazing. It really allows value to be routed to any and every person that's working on something. One of the things we wanted to bear in mind while creating an institute is the ability to say, how have you contributed to culture? What does contributing to culture mean? It’s not about making a work or minting an NFT. It's not just about buying NFTs, or curating, or selling NFTs on the marketplace. Contribution to culture could be leveraging your social capital, being a voice, being an advocate, creating space for other folks. We wanted to find ways to capture different kinds of contributions to culture—ultimately, none of us do anything in a silo.
When you look at startup culture, you usually see that the story is all about the might of one person, which leaves out the actual full cast of characters that made that thing real. What's good, Yana?
Yana Sosnovskaya (ZORA): I have a question. What do you think about the modern state of culture in crypto? Do you think we have enough culture? Do you think we talk enough about culture?
S: That's a very good question. Culture's all around us, but if you're not looking for it, if you don't have that pulse, you'll miss it when it's right in front of your face. I feel the culture's always been here. But now, we're at a point in which folks on the opposite end have opened certain doors. And then on our end, we just broke shit. Where we came through, just making noise and making it happen. And the chips were gonna fall where they did. It's worked out for us and as a result, it's opened up so many more opportunities for other people.
Latashá (ZORA): I do believe that the culture is still very young in the space and very conflicted as well, in my opinion. When we speak of culture, we have all these different definitions and ideas and views on what culture is and that is a good thing, I think. I think diversity is necessary. But I also question where the culture is going and I'm so excited for The Well because I believe that it's about the humanity of our people. I’m hoping we can respect humanity again, respect out stories. I'm hoping that could come to life more so than ever with The Well and with the new culture avenues that we're thinking about.
I’m a big optimist! But I want us to not lie about what is happening within the NFT space, and be honest about how erasure is happening and stories are getting lost. It’s so necessary for us to make sure that, like, spaces like The Well really come to life in full force—make sure that our stories are truly heard, are truly seen.
YS: Optimism is gonna win.
S: I think what's really dope about this space too, is that when it comes to, DAOs, community action, PartyBid, auction houses, all the things that we’re sort of standing up—we're sort of rethinking and retooling what civics looks like, in general. Even though we're doing things and governing things from a digital perspective, all of this type of framework manifests itself in the real world. I'm very curious to see how folks within this digital frontier pour a lot of the thought processes and the actions that we do in the digital space into our IRL environments.
If we're very particular about governance and DAO structures, that can translate into being very particular about governance and local government. But if we're thinking about how to build social impact within the crypto space, we should be thinking about how we can translate that social impact into our physical environment. Nothing that we do in the digital world is completely isolated from IRL places. We should be working in tandem on both with the same level of sort of intention and focus so that we can have both a positive digital experience and a positive physical experience.
The more that we are self-organizing and the more we learn about DAOs, which are not too dissimilar from government structures that we've been a part of, the better. We’ve got to recontextualize IRL civic duty. While most people don't wanna participate in the current system, if we don't participate, it leaves room for the issues that we've already been combating. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, there was the weird tax bill in which folks were trying to sneak in having everyone with a crypto wallet have to KYC, which is like showing off your identity, which is nearly impossible to do—making crypto in many ways ineffective and dead. This is what happens if we allow ourselves not to be active participants in what’s going on in those real-world discussions. Then we can find ways to vote and build policy that can help make things more decentralized. We do need to consider being more active and present in our physical world.
Zora had an open design session in October or November of last year that I participated in titled ‘community runs the world.’ I wasn't thinking about being a person of great community impact; I was more selfishly trying to figure out how to build my artist career. But the more I thought about how this space has the opportunity to provide access, it just tapped into my training as an anthropologist and a service designer to want to facilitate that for more people. So I ended up manifesting a destiny for myself just by being a part of that community experience.
YS: I'm a normie in the crypto space. I’ve worked with culture all my life. You were the person who made it make sense for me to get into the space, like start partybidding on punks. So I want to say a big thank you.
S: Wow. I appreciate that. I know when I first did the first crypto cookout Twitter Space, there were a couple of other people who were in the audience who made their first NFT purchase.
It was a really interesting moment of reclaiming digital identity and trying to change the value of CryptoPunks, because they were undervalued for a whole list of reasons. It became an on-ramp for new people to discover the joy of NFTs, owning a piece of art that now has cultural context they can understand and attach themselves to. That was a historic moment we all participated in—community ownership and reclamation of digital identity. I’m touched by it.