“It’s all about what you can do tomorrow that you couldn’t do today” is Rocky Bucano’s neat assessment of what NFTs and the metaverse could represent to the cultural sector. The Executive Director of the upcoming Universal Hip Hop Museum (UHHM) was speaking at “NFTs, The Metaverse, and Museums,” the March 15 webinar co-presented by Jing Culture & Commerce and Iconic Moments, which tackled how cultural organizations could venture onto the blockchain with purpose.

Certainly, a number of museums have participated in the NFT realm, whether by hosting NFT-related events or minting and selling works in their collections. But as the conversation between Bucano, Iconic Moments’ Chris Cummings, and Jing Culture & Commerce’s Fei Lu highlighted, there’s more institutions can do within the space to enhance their offerings, raise funds, and energize a community — all as part of a comprehensive digital strategy. 

Here are some takeaways from the online event that underscore how NFTs and the metaverse can enrich museums today and tomorrow.

Taking museum experience to the next (and virtual) level

It goes without saying that the metaverse has a reach far surpassing that of brick-and-mortar museums. And as Bucano pointed out, “There’s no way that we can tell the global history of hip hop in a building that only offers 53,000 square feet.” On average, Cummings added, only two percent of a museum’s holdings is visible or accessible, where the virtual plane offers institutions boundary-less space to platform (more of) their collections or craft visitor experiences that are truly universal.

But entering the metaverse means more than virtually replicating a venue. Why do that when you could use the environment’s particular features to enhance the museum experience? “Ideally, if you walk into a WWII museum in the metaverse, you shouldn’t see a photo on the wall; you should see a plane fly overhead,” said Cummings. “[The metaverse] should do everything you can’t do in the real world, and make it unique in and of itself.”

Building a community on NFTs

DAM and Museums: Universal Hip Hop Museum

Before her keynote at DAM and Museums 2022, Martha Diaz previews how the UHHM is setting up to maximize its digital assets. Image: Universal Hip Hop Museum on Facebook

NFTs are more than a retail product and selling NFTs presents institutions not just a revenue stream, but an opportunity to build and engage a community. The purchase of a museum NFT, after all, could be viewed as a form of cultural patronage or the buying into of a museum’s mission. And as with any donor group, why not invite holders of museum NFTs for exclusive events or perhaps to have a say in the institution’s programming?

This, the UHHM is bringing about with its forthcoming One For All campaign, to be announced in Spring. Aimed at supporting the museum’s goal of hop hop preservation, the activation will grant an exclusive NFT to all participants, who will pay a mere $1 to get involved. By making such patronage accessible, said Bucano, “this allows anyone that believes in the museum’s mission to jump on board.” In addition, he added of UHHM’s engagement with NFTs, “We’re not just looking at it as a source of income, but as a way to create a social impact so we can reinvest back into our community.”

The need for a NFT strategy

It’s easy enough to mint a NFT; harder still is the building of NFTs into a comprehensive digital strategy. “It’s important to know that it’s not just about hopping into the space and finding success,” emphasized Cummings, who further pointed out that less than one percent of NFT projects are actually successful. “It’s really taking the time to build and map out a strategy with NFTs to really engage.” 

This means a multi-month process of research, planning, onboarding, outreach, marketing, and above all, ensuring the NFT project aligns with the museum’s broader objectives. “It can’t be about creating a NFT and then not having a plan,” said Bucano. “It’s about having a complete digital strategy that will match your vision, whether in terms of visitor engagement or fundraising. It’s a complete 360-degree experience.”


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