Blockchain Explained: Applications for the Arts Part 2 of 3


Blockchain originated in the world of cryptocurrencies, but its applications are expansive. This post focuses on solely on some of the most relevant applications for the arts.

Smart Contracts

Smart contracts conceptually emerged in the 1990s. The idea behind smart contracts was to create a contract where the terms were embedded in computer code, and when external conditions triggered specific contract parameters, the document would self-execute its terms via the web. For example, if a consumer purchased travel insurance via a smart contract, and experienced a flight cancellation, then program would receive the flight cancellation information and automatically release the reimbursement.[1] This process would eliminate the need for filing and verifying claims.

Blockchain technology presents a substantial step towards making fully enabled smart contracts a reality. Smart contracts typically run on the Ethereum blockchain, or those similarly styled. Unlike the Bitcoin blockchain, Ethereum style blockchains allows conditions to be placed upon transactions.[2] Simple if-then code parameters open up a world of self-executing transaction possibilities. To monitor condition changes most smart contracts utilize oracles, which are real world third party data feeds.[3] In the airline hypothetical, the oracle would contain real time flight status data that is fed to the smart contract.  If the oracle communicates a flight cancellation, then the customer is immediately compensated per the contract specifications.

Smart contracts are appealing because they limit the possibilities of breach. Neither party can alter the terms of a smart contract once it is created. In a smart contract the computer determines if a term of the contract has been performed and automatically triggers the preset response.[4] The automation of enforcement is the primary difference between a smart contract and a regular contract.[5]

Outside of standard business contracting, for the arts smart contracts may positively impact initiatives which include museum collections traveling outside of the museum. Supply chain industry adoption of blockchain is growing,[6] and this could have a dramatic impact on the ways that museums transport art. Art work is often accompanied by a courier when it is shipped for a traveling or temporary exhibit. The implementation of blockchain based shipping systems may mitigate some of the risk of shipping art by enabling real-time tracking of shipments and increasing transparency and lowering costs.[7]

 Art Provenance and Sale

In the same manner that the blockchain records the provenance of every Bitcoin, blockchains may be used to record the provenance of artwork. In the private art market, systems such as Verisart[8] and Codex[9] are utilizing blockchain platforms to manage certificates of authenticity and sale. These types of platforms may be useful for artists who create work solely in the digital medium as they are able to create limited edition “prints” of their work, establish scarcity, and thus generate ownership value.[10] Some highly integrated art blockchains offer financial services where the blockchain is paired with bank services to offer secure mechanisms to execute loans back by artistic collateral. 

Heritage protection groups and museums are labeling endangered art with smart water codes which are then registered.[11] If the are tracked on a blockchain then should these artifacts subsequently end up on the market, they may be easily checked against the blockchain for their provenance record.

Information accessibility

Blockchain presents opportunities to increase public access to information. For example, should arts organizations place their digital collection records on a single blockchain would create an unprecedented opportunity for academic collaboration and information sharing. Open educational resources placed on national blockchain would ensure a trusted content source for teachers and educators.

There are many disruptive uses of blockchain technology in the information sciences. For example, blockchain may be used to create large metadata systems, protect digital first sale rights, and further develop connected networks of libraries and universities. E-verification identify systems could create a universal library card system.[14] Digital skills and other personal training opportunities offered by libraries could be validated through a system of blockchain based badges or certificates thereby increasing stakeholder’s marketable expertise. Each of these proposed uses dramatically increase community access to libraries and information as well as promote lifelong learning.

For more examples of blockchain applications for the arts check out:

Opportunities of Blockchain: What Arts Managers and Technologists Need to Know

Blockchain: The Tech Behind Bitcoin Opens Doors for Art Institutions

This Post is part II of a III part seriese

Part I: Blockchain Explained: Understanding the Technology and its Applications for the Arts, Part 1 of 3

Part III: Three Questions to Ask Before Moving to a Blockchain Powered System - Blockchain Explained: Part 3 of 3.


[1] American Bar Association, “Business Law Today,” Sept. 2017,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Slobodnik, J, “How Oracles Connect Smart Contracts to the Real World,” Feb. 2, 2018, Accessed June 28, 2018,

[4] Werbach, Kevin and Cornell, Nicholas, “Contracts Ex Machina.” Duke Law Journal 67 (2017): 323.

[5] Ibid, 332.

[6] Beyond Bitcoin: Emerging Applications for Blockchain Technology, Testimony before the Comm. on Science, Space, and Tech. Subcomm. on Oversight & Subcomm. on Research and Tech., H.R. Ser. No.115-47, 105th Cong. 2 (2018) (Testimony of Frank Yiannas, Vice President of Food Safety, Walmart Inc.).

[7] "Does Blockchain Have A Place In Museums?" Culture Track, Accessed June 29, 2018,

[8] "Certify and Verify Artwork Instantly," Verisart, Accessed June 28, 2018,

[9] Codex Protocol, Accessed June 28, 2018,

[10] Bailey, Jason, “The Blockchain Art Market Is Here,” Dec. 27, 2017,  Accessed June 29, 2018,

[11] "SmartWater for Museums & Collectors -," SmartWater® - The Crime Fighting Company, Accessed June 28, 2018.

[12] "How It Works," Maecenas, Accessed June 28, 2018,

[13] On June 20, 2018 Dadiani Fine Art sold 49% ownership in an Andy Warhol silkscreen utilizing the Maecanas Fine Art blockchain platform. See Livni, Ephrat, "A New Cryptocurrency Art Auction Is Selling Shares in an Andy Warhol Painting," Quartz, June 20, 2018, Accessed June 28, 2018.

[14] "Blockchain & Libraries from Carnegie Mellon – Qatar by Jason Griffey," Blockchains for Libraries, March 27, 2018, Accessed June 28, 2018,

[15] "Use for Blockchain in Libraries." Blockchains for Libraries. February 12, 2018. Accessed June 29, 2018.

[16] Goldenfein, Jake and Hunter, Dan, “Blockchains, Orphan Works, and the Public Domain,” Columbia Journal of Law and Arts 41 (2017): 1.

[17] Ibid