By the end of the year, total sales of digital art minted on Ethereum had swelled to exceed more than $41 billion, according to a report by Chainalysis. Had the value of digital collectibles minted on other blockchains been included in that figure, the total value of the NFT art market may have equaled the traditional art sector which raked in around $50 billion in the same year.
The boom has benefited artists all around the world, allowing them to access lucrative new opportunities via a distributed global audience, while bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of the commercial art world to build a direct relationship with their collectors instead. Additionally, the ability to mint their creations as NFTs has provided unprecedented digital property rights to artists, with blockchain-enabled smart contracts enabling them to collect a pre-programmed and automated royalty on all future sales of their work via secondary markets.
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NFTs have delivered huge benefits to creators, but there is a hurdle to get in. It can be particularly difficult in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, where the value of local currencies pale against the dollar, and the cost of an Ethereum transaction is sometimes on par with the monthly average wage. The gas fees required to get started are simply unaffordable for many creators.
Enter the First Mint Fund, which has a mission to help aspiring artists from and currently living in Southeast Asia to mint their first NFT by providing them with ETH to cover the gas fees. The idea is that once the artist has been able to sell and collect revenue from that first NFT, they will be able to reinvest their earnings to cover future transaction fees and ultimately progress toward earning a sustainable living through their art.
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Launched in March 2021, the fund was initially only for Filipino artists. But with the goal to make the space more inclusive, soon the initiative was extended to include creators of all types – artists, graphic designers, illustrators, animators, motion designers, musicians and more. It was also extended to the furthest corners of Southeast Asia including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam.
Established by prominent NFT art collectors, Gabby Dizon and Colin Goltra, the two initially seeded $2,000 to the First Mint Fund through Narra Gallery, an NFT art gallery in Decentraland, which the duo also co-founded together. Dizon is the co-founder of decentralized gaming guild Yield Guild Games (YGG), and Goltra is the former director of growth at Binance Southeast Asia and current chief operating officer of YGG. To date, the First Mint Fund has raised 15.065 ETH and funded the gas fees to launch a total of 95 artists from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
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One notable contributor to the fund was the Filipino-American rapper, Allan Pineda Lindo, better known as apl.de.ap of the Black Eyed Peas, who donated a portion of the proceeds from his first NFT drop. Apart from Lindo, most benefactors have been anonymous.
AJ Dimarucot, who manages the First Mint Fund in a volunteer capacity, shared his thoughts on this project and the NFT scene in Southeast Asia.
Where do you see most of the funding applications coming from?
There’s no formal call out for artists, but we get several applications per week. In the early months, we saw a stream of artists from Indonesia and Singapore apply. Late last year and this year, we’ve seen a deluge of applications from people here in the Philippines.
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The artists come from non-traditional and non-established backgrounds, and the NFT scene has embraced them. The scene here is widely inclusive, where you can find a child, an elderly man as well as female artists that have immediately made a mark in the space.
Can you share a few examples of artists have you funded?
SeviLovesArt is a 9-year-old boy with autism from the Philippines who is doing amazing work with his paintings. He began painting at age five when he commenced art therapy. There’s also Diela from Indonesia, who has established herself on OpenSea. Then there’s Rociel from Malaysia who is now building her PFP collection with other Southeast Asian artists.
What opportunities can the metaverse offer to creators in Southeast Asia that they may not have otherwise had access to?
I’ve been an advocate for online work since 2008, and the metaverse has just added an exponential layer on top of that. It feels like the early days of the internet when people were jumping to work in dot-com projects; there are a lot of people being hired here to work on building metaverse games. And that’s just one aspect, staying independent and building your own NFT project is something where people are finding success too.
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There are no boundaries in the metaverse, so there’s so much space to carve your own niche. We now have metaverse Filipino workers instead of Overseas Filipino Workers. The opportunities are abundant, not only in the Philippines but the whole region. Beyond high gas fees, what other adoption challenges do creators in Southeast Asia face when getting started with NFTs and beginning to navigate the crypto space? Our experience is that they have issues using MetaMask for the first time and using that as a single login for multiple websites. It’s the concept of decentralization and permissionless access that sort of throws them off initially. There’s also the issue of using off-ramp services to convert NFT earnings back into fiat.
I used to help artists in the beginning by teaching them how to open a MetaMask account and copying their addresses, and also actually minting them on OpenSea or Foundation, which are the two sites we commonly use. Lately, it's been better when the artists already have a MetaMask address and a collection uploaded on OpenSea. And all we have to do is check the current gas fee and send that amount to them.
Beyond supporting artists for their first mint, what else is in store for First Mint Fund? We’ve started to do First Mint Fund “minting parties” to onboard artists simultaneously. For the minting party, after they've already created their MetaMask addresses, we let the artists share their screens and we go through the process together. We just finished our first party via CryptoARTPH’s Discord, where we donated nearly 1 ETH to help 13 artists mint their first NFT. This will be the first of many more to come.
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