Micol (VerticalCrypto Art): We're doing a fundraising auction on Wednesday, September 15 at 1 p.m. PST, from which all the funds will go to help artists mint and support the program itself—to the mentors that have been teaching the classes, to VerticalCrypto Art, the artists, et cetera. The artwork being auctioned is from fourteen established artists, like Kevin Abosch, Mario Klingemann, and Helen Zarin.
Michail Stangl (ZORA): Could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you found your way into NFTs?
M: My background is in tech and creative partnerships. I was at Facebook and Instagram for five years, working with creators. I’ve always interacted with creators working at that intersection of creativity and tech. While I wasn’t in the traditional art world, I was always surrounded by young, emerging artists trying to make their way, and one of them discovered NFTs. He was always talking to me about crypto and thought it was something I would love because it intersects with what I was already doing at my job. It was a whole new creative and technological landscape.
I ignored him for a long time. And then in May of last year, I think I bought my first crypto, Bitcoin and Ethereum, and then I was like, okay, like maybe it's time to navigate this space. So I started a Twitter account, followed the big accounts and marketplaces, wherever I could find informative tweets.
MS: How did this lead to starting VerticalCrypto Art?
The way that VerticalCrypto Art started was organic and natural. A lot of people think that like VerticalCrypto Art is 100 people, but actually, it's just me and one of my best friends. It started last July, as a media hub and then moved on to be more of a curation project. I started doing a lot of content, working with a lot of marketplaces.
EW: Can you tell us more about the residency program?
The residency has been incredible. I had never imagined being able to do something like this, to support so many artists to meet so many people. It started in August, so we're already in week nine of twelve. They had eight weeks of classes, a really broad curriculum, and in this last phase of the residence, it’s the creating phase, and we give them a budget to mint. We will be doing a final exhibition with the NFTs that the resident artists have created at the end.
When we opened the applications in June, I was collaborating with 25 different mentors who are teaching classes and offering one-on-one mentorship, and they all helped me go through the applications. We wanted the artists to be new to the crypto space, so ideally a few months into their journey into crypto arts. Obviously, if someone was super established it wouldn’t make sense to do this kind of residency. We also wanted diversity—to have a wide range of countries and styles of creativity represented. We selected 17 artists from 17 different places around the world. We have a crypto poet, a painter, an architect, a computational artist, all sorts. The idea was to make sure that it was as varied, as diverse as possible, to bring in a rich conversation between the artists, and it worked.
EW: Did any of the work surprise you?
M: Everything. It’s just interesting to see how un the traditional art world, or it just in general when you're not exposed to as many different art forms, you kind of tend to think, I'm a painter and I will paint and that's it; that is my practice. But in this space, it's like, yeah, you're a painter, but you can also do generative art, or you can also explore GANs or you can build architecture in the metaverse. There are so many different ways you can go. To see that is amazing.
MS: Residencies are very often creative spaces that are not driven by marketability. Obviously, a lot of people claim that NFT Web 3.0 is a hyper-financialized space with a lot of social/monetary signaling. How did you negotiate these two things? How do you prepare artists for that kind of world?
M: I think this is a highly important topic to speak about. One of the classes that we did was with Sarah Zucker. She talked about how one of the most important things that artists realized and understood when they started the residency is that CryptoArt is not just art, it’s an intersection of finance, tech, and art. The finance part is really important. As an artist and as a creative individual, you have to be empowered to be able to do each of the three.
Creators should be empowered to own their own finances, to know how to market themselves, to not always have to be represented by somebody else.
Sarah said, "You know, this space isn't for everybody." And to be honest, I completely agree with that—it isn't for everybody, not everybody can deal with the intersection of these three elements. When an artist or creator comes into that space, they have to do everything. I try to be honest and transparent because I don’t think sugar coating is the way to do it. My way of approaching the residency as a program is to empower creators and give them every possible tool, skill, connection, and mentorship with people who might be helpful. A space where they can create community between themselves—a happy little bubble, which is like what I created for myself when I started VerticalCrypto Art.
Creators should be empowered to own their own finances, to know how to market themselves, to not always have to be represented by somebody else. I think that’s the beauty of Blockchain and crypto art.
MS: What’s next in your vision for VerticalCrypto Art?
M: I’d really like to keep building these programs, not only like as long residency programs, but also partnering with, for example, Processing.org, or Art Blocks. I really hope to be able to give out as much as possible and to build bridges between creators, artists, and people who have been around for a while and can provide guidance, tools, knowledge. Someone who is a huge inspiration for me who I really adore is Casey Reas. What he did for Processing.org is just incredible. It’s super optimistic, but I really believe in the power of open-source, the power of allowing people to build on what you build.