Living Arts DAO
There are over 28 million artists and musicians in the United States, and many more globally. And yet, many artists lack access to finance. Traditional channels have failed because they focus on narrow metrics to proxy for credit risk, and institutions of higher education have burdened artists with higher rates of student loan debt. We introduce the Living Arts DAO as a new body for providing micro-grants to emerging artists to democratize access to opportunity.
Philanthropists donate billions to the fine arts, including traditional opera houses. Unfortunately, these funds do not always flow through to help and support the actual artists. Much like what alumni face when deciding to donate to their alma mater, fine arts philanthropists are now at a crossroads: wondering how they can best support artistic activities and the artists that make them possible, but do so in a way that ensures the funds actually achieve their objective. The current governance structure in the arts provides neither transparency nor accountability – we provide a solution.
We believe that a DAO can function as a more effective vehicle for value-creation in the arts with a similar tax treatment as most non-profit arts organizations (through incorporation in Nashville, TN).
First, artists will issue NFTs of their funding proposals, effectively functioning as business plans. We will license the Living Opera arts entrepreneurship curriculum and require that those going through the proposal process have access to the educational content to help submitters craft a good pitch. (Living Opera began based on the recognition by Soula Parassidis and Norman Reinhardt that emerging artists were not trained to succeed in the marketplace, so educational content was produced and shared via social media and the website. Now, we are expanding this content.)
Second, philanthropists will purchase different tiers of NFTs that confer varying degrees of visibility and utility for the artists that they support. For example, a higher tier philanthropist might want to journey with the artists that they are supporting, so the artists could schedule virtual meetings or in-person meet ups to share with them about their portfolio and life activities. Similarly, the philanthropists could also create a legacy by becoming patrons of particular artists.
As we will explain in more detail below, submitters will not only gain access to a new platform for financing their auditions and investments in their human capital, but also benefit directly from an educational experience and obtain certification of their participation in the DAO. Living Opera is currently producing additional research on the necessity for arts entrepreneurship and the gap in existing bachelor’s programs and arts/music conservatories in training the next generation.
Our DAO is not yet live on the blockchain, but we have over 10,000 artists, who people who love the artists, who actively engage with our content. To our knowledge, we are the only web3 startup in the opera sector, including classical music. Furthermore, because our organization is led by leaders in the sector, we can speak with authority and authenticity. As we will clarify below (and we are happy to iterate the budget and partition it into multiple phases with your team), we need funding for not only the DAO governors, but also developers to build the DAO, marketing to reach philanthropists (as we already have a strong reach with artists), and contracting with a few vendors, e.g. for the verifiable digital credential
We are asking for an initial disbursement of $120,000: (a) $28,000 for two months of marketing with a talented web3 communications agency, (b) $50,000 for developers to build the DAO, likely on the Ethereum mainnet, (c) $22,000 for the the time involved among the founding team, and (d) $20,000 for an initial round of grants. After the initial disbursement of NFTs and grants, the subsequent cycles should become self-sustaining. We would also like to contract with The Learning Economy to help us create the verifiable digital credentials for participating artists.
We will focus on several main metrics.
- Satisfaction among artists – do they enjoy the experience and feel like they’re getting value out of it, even on top of the funding that they receive?
- Satisfaction among philanthropists – do they feel like they’re effectively investing in the arts, and benefiting from a direct connection with the artists?
- Success of the artists who get funded – while the metrics are admittedly varied, success is clear and we want to see emerging artists grow throughout their professional journey. We do not want to focus on simply the quantity of people who get funded, but the proportion who get funded and continue to succeed and excel in their lives.
- Number of users (and consistent growth in users) – are artists responding to the new opportunity and do they engage with the content?
- Greater knowledge about the blockchain – we want to provide the community with incentives to learn more and play with blockchain technologies, so minting NFTs that are initially their philanthropic proposals for funding provides a perfect opportunity.
While the third metric will take time to develop, the first two we can gather input over in the short-run. One of our founders, Dr. Christos Makridis, has significant expertise in survey design and quantitative analysis through his research career, including as a senior adviser at Gallup, and will lead up the design of the survey and analysis and public reporting of the metrics.
We believe that talented artists, and those who simply want to and are willing to learn and work hard, should have access to financing without repaying expensive loans and debt. Being an excellent artist is already hard enough, so let’s simplify the process!
So many philanthropists are tired of annual giving without seeing any fruit of their donations actually making the arts better – and, in many cases, a deterioration of the arts. We want to provide funders with a clear mechanism for funding the arts with accountability and transparency on the funds.
Educational institutions have not lived up to their potential, especially in the arts: these students carry some of the highest levels of student debt across all bachelor’s degrees, and they also have some of the lowest earnings potential. Our internal survey work in Living Opera also shows that over half of artists are forced to take other part-time jobs to support their career, so we want to provide an arts entrepreneurship experience that involves “learning by doing.”
The arts sector, especially performing arts, is facing two substantial challenges: stagnant wages, and increasing pass-through of costs onto the actual artists and creators. And yet, donations to the fine arts continue, in large part because of their tax-deductible status and the desire among donors to at least try and do something to support the arts. However, the status quo is not sustainable.
First, emerging artists have little access to funds and are forced to work other part or full time jobs to make ends meet. Our internal survey work suggests that over half of artists are diagnosed with anxiety or depression as a result of these combined factors, ranging from the difficulty of the job to the lack of access to funds. A major reason for that stems from the failure of educational institutions to provide emerging artists with a holistic toolkit of skills, especially in arts entrepreneurship. Our ongoing research suggests that less than 10% of the top colleges and conservatories even have an arts entrepreneurship certificate, but such skills are needed in the marketplace.
Second, even though there are billions of dollars donated to arts institutions each year, they have become large administrative organizations that struggle to actually disburse funds in a meaningful way to artists. For example, at the onset of Covid-19, the Metropolitan Opera canceled all of their contracts with the artists who were going to perform in 2020 by email. While there is a great deal of understanding about the difficult situation they were in, canceling contracts by email and failing to even pay out a fraction of the contract left many performers – even those at their pinnacle – in an even more tough position. Meanwhile, many opera houses continued to receive funding from the stimulus bill and Paycheck Protection Program, although artists never saw any of such funds.
Our DAO, therefore, is motivated by these two patterns and creates value by helping artists match with donors, while simultaneously using the experience of proposing projects (and potentially becoming a reviewer) to build skills and credentials that they can publicly signal.
Soula Parassidis (www.soulaparassidis.com), CEO/co-founder of Living Opera, is an international soprano appearing in the world’s most important opera and concert venues as a leading soloist. Founding Living Opera in 2019, she also released the world’s first opera NFT collection in 2021. Soula is an avid anti human trafficking advocate, and serves on the board of The Exodus Road.
Christos A. Makridis (www.christosmakridis.com), CTO/COO/co-founder of Living Opera, is an entrepreneur and computational social scientist. He holds academic appointments at Columbia Business School, Stanford University, University of Nicosia, Arizona State University, and Baylor University. Christos has published over 60 peer-review research articles and written over 100 op-eds. He holds dual doctorates and masters in economics and management science & engineering from Stanford.
Norman Reinhardt, Head of Educational Programming/co-founder, is a fixture of the international operatic stage for almost 20 years, appearing with the world’s leading artists in the USA and Europe. Norman comes from a long line of teachers and also has a deep passion for education.
Following the receipt of funding, we will begin embedding additional governors from the Living Opera community, which spans multiple continents and thousands of people across the world. Everyone we have spoken to within the Living Opera community is already extremely excited. We are also eager to see how participation as a DAO governor can provide an additional source of income for artists in the community who also have strong verbal and communication skills.
We are in the process of revamping our website, which is currently www.livingopera.org. We have a very active Medium page (livingopera.medium.com), and Soula Parassidis has an active Instagram page (@soula_parassidis). (We are in the process of building a Discord, as well as increasing our Twitter following, @living_opera.) We are also happy to share more internal brand assets, as well as coverage we’ve had in the press.