Shift by Alberta Innovates

What are Non-Fungible Tokens? For artist and advocate Cowboy Smithx they're game changers.

June 27, 2022 Cowboy Smithx Season 3 Episode 8
Shift by Alberta Innovates
What are Non-Fungible Tokens? For artist and advocate Cowboy Smithx they're game changers.
Show Notes Transcript

We joined Cowboy Smithx backstage at Inventures 2022 just prior to his panel #T7NFT Building Community in the Arts: Utilizing Blockchain Technology to Boost the Creative Economies.

The #T7NFT (Treaty 7 Non-Fungible Token) program is a project led by NexusVerseYYC, who Cowboy was onsite representing.

Cowboy also took the opportunity to talk about the role of identity understanding and the role of Indigenous culture in Alberta's innovation ecosystem.

"So going all the way back to that inception story, one thing that I don't see enough Treaty 7 people or Treaty 6, if it's Edmonton, I don't see people owning that identity, flexing the spirit and intent of that treaty, which was in our language is  [listen to recording]. In Cree, up in Treaty 6, it's [listen to recording] and it's this coming together and innovating and coming up with resources, knowledge, understanding of the land and understanding of the landscape and projecting into the future. Coming up with an alignment of intention that will help us carve identity and help every sector thrive. And if I can get all these tech sectors and agriculture, oil and gas, on that same page, that's one of my life's missions. We're going to do everything we can, including, make NFTS. "

Bio
Cowboy Smithx is a Blackfoot filmmaker from the Piikani Nation and Kainai Nation in Southern Alberta. He has acted in, co-produced, and directed short films and music videos. His best known work is a full feature documentary co-produced with Chris Hsiung called, Elder in the Making, a film about reconciliation between non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.


Jon:

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, are many things to many people, the good, the bad, and the ugly. But for our next guest, they're a game-changer for artists. Our conversation took place at Adventures where he was a guest demoing his work. Sit back, grab your favorite means of hydration, and we're going to lift back the veil to see behind the curtains of NFTs.

Jon:

Welcome to Shift.

Cowboy Smithx:

My name is Cowboy Smith, and I represented many different organizations, but at Inventures, I'm representing Nexusverse YYC. And we have a really cool NFT project called #T7NFT.

Jon:

That's what I want to dive into right away, is this, the NFT stuff because you hear so much about NFTs, non-fungible tokens.

Jon:

And people are like, it's...there's part of that group of people that are like, "Let's just turn these things into something that's a commodity." And then there's other social good and stuff coming out of that. And it's all over the map. I love it.

Jon:

Describe what you're doing, Cowboy. Do we just call you Cowboy or Cowboy Smithx?

Cowboy Smithx:

Cowboy's good. Cowboy's... Yeah.

Cowboy Smithx:

I mean it... Like any piece of technology, it depends on what you do with it, right? Just like the internet. There's dark web there's Pokemon, there's sports betting, there's all kinds of things people are doing, online banking, and NFTs as digital assets are just another avenue for people to be creative. And for artists, it's a game-changer because we now have smart contracts where an independent artist can get royalties from their work after the first point of sale. So, for as long as the NFT exists in that specific blockchain, they'll be getting up to 10%, most of them are about 5%, royalties on every second sale. So, if their profile grows over time and they get more fans and become more of a celebrity influencer and people start trying to resell the NFTs they bought on the cheap at the start of their career, they're still going to get these royalties sent as cryptocurrency. So, primarily right now it's a theory model.

Jon:

Oh, okay. So every time... So you create an NFT, and it can be any... Is it visual? Can it be audio?

Cowboy Smithx:

It can be audio as well, yeah. There's a great record label in Boston called Monstercat. They're doing some really interesting stuff with NFT drops as MP3s, aka, music. I mean, that's not my area. I don't really have an area of expertise, I'm just more of an advocate. But what we're doing with our NFT project is we're trying to give artists an upper hand in the space because it is still early adoption mode. Public engagement, public education, and having conversations like what we're having here at Inventures is the first piece of the puzzle. So we got to educate the public because there's a lot of esoteric jargon. It's very technical. It can be intimidating. So we try to bridge that gap by explaining the journey that an artist is making by taking their original art pieces, minting them as NFTs, and building their portfolio in the metaverse.

Katie:

So what's the potential revenue going to be like for this in Alberta? This NFT artist, or do you know?

Cowboy Smithx:

Potential revenue is a wide-open ceiling. I don't think they're... Who would've anticipated that a character named Beeple and NFT artists, like the Carolinas, would sell something, his collection, for 69 million dollars? I would've never predicted that.

Jon:

Right.

Cowboy Smithx:

I mean, that was a really specific buyer who was kind of an outlaw with his funds. A billionaire guy who just bought a bunch of random NFTs at about 500,000 a pop at a recent tech conference in Florida. So, those kinds of guys, they're one in a million, but they're early adopters and they're sort of kick-starting the financial side and potential of this NFT space, which is still very early. We're still very early in understanding what the utility can be for some of these NFTs.

Katie:

Another thing I'm curious about is, at our opening ceremony, Ira Provost was talking about the connection between our indigenous communities in Canada and how it's going to tie into innovation. And so, I was interested to hear from you, how does that bridge look like to you? And, what are you excited for in the future?

Cowboy Smithx:

I'm a huge proponent for identity understanding. And the reason we call our project T7 NFTs is because the inception story for everyone here in Calgary, Southern Alberta to the Treaty 7 region, is that treaty signing that took place in 1877 on September 22nd, around 2:37 PM. It was kind of cloudy day. So that was, what, how many years was that ago? Like, 140 years ago. But that is what we have. We can point to a point in time in history where we can say, "This is where it all began. This is our Genesis story."

Cowboy Smithx:

And the true spirit and intent from an indigenous perspective, specifically the Blackfoot Confederacy, was that we are to now come together as one family, as one community and support each other through difficult times. At the time, we were dealing with some very difficult situations. Two pandemics, smallpox, measles. The eco-side of the Buffalo and the potential usurpation of the territory by the Americans, the blue coats at the time who were declaring war on indigenous communities, example 1876, The Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Cowboy Smithx:

So going all the way back to that inception story, one thing that I don't see enough Treaty 7 people or Treaty 6, if it's Edmonton, I don't see people owning that identity, flexing the spirit and intent of that treaty, which was in our languages, [foreign language 00:06:21. In Cree, up in Treaty 6, it's [foreign language 00:06:22] and it's this coming together and innovating and coming up with resources, knowledge, understanding of the land and understanding of the landscape and projecting into the future. Coming up with an alignment of intention that will help us carve identity and help every sector thrive. And if I can get all these tech sectors and agriculture, oil and gas, on that same page, that's one of my life's missions. We're going to do everything we can, including, make NFTs.

Katie:

So it's really all about connection and it's about bringing people together through technology and tying back into your roots. I love that.

Jon:

I'm blown away with just the level of history. And to be able to provide that sort of context in talking about technology that, as you said, is really early stages and then going back like that, it's impressive. It really establishes a cool context.

Cowboy Smithx:

It's exciting.

Jon:

It is. Absolutely. But now when we talk about NFTs, let's go back to that real briefly here. And Katie asked a question about the potential for making money for artists. So if I understand correctly, then the artist creates an NFT, whether that's a visual, an MP3. They then, put that up for sale, somewhere. I'm really ignorant with all of this stuff. They put it up for sale, somewhere.

Cowboy Smithx:

So yeah, the technical term for it is "minting into the blockchain". So you basically... It's like registering the code that's attached to the digital asset, whatever it may be.

Cowboy Smithx:

And there's a number of different blockchains you can choose from. Right now, the standard is Ethereum. There's other blockchains like, the Solana blockchain, there's some cool stuff happening with Polygon. Decentraland and Sandbox are metaverse projects that actually sell digital landscapes and they've got their own built in cryptocurrency.

Cowboy Smithx:

So it just depends on what type of project you're creating right now. The standard is Ethereum and that's where all of our NFT collection is, on the Ethereum blockchain. The whole collection of our 25 artists and organizations that are contributing to this is all on the OpenSea marketplace that's available for purchase.

Cowboy Smithx:

The standard wallet to use is called MetaMask. And you can house your NFTs and your cryptocurrency all in one spot. There are more platforms, more wallets, more companies coming out that will facilitate the complexity of what blockchain technology is providing us.

Jon:

Unreal. So, okay. So now the artist creates this, that exists, that digital asset is minted. It exists selling it on OpenSea. And then when one person buys that, let's say it's $10. Does the artist get $10?

Cowboy Smithx:

First point of sale is usually a bit higher. It could be... It's the totality of the first point of sale. So the buyer now has that digital asset and they have ownership over that piece of the intellectual property. It depends on what the smart contract says. They then go, the second point of sale, maybe they bought it for a thousand dollars. They sell it for $10,000. The artist then receives an automatic royalty that is burnt into the smart contract, which is encoded in the blockchain, and they'll receive Ether, which is the cryptocurrency.

Cowboy Smithx:

In terms of what... one of our NFTs, that was the case. The artist would then receive that 5% royalty in perpetuity.

Jon:

And that goes on in... Yeah. That's fantastic. Now, Cowboy, I got to ask, you're so knowledgeable with this stuff. How long ago did you get into it?

Cowboy Smithx:

I've always been a fan of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and started buying Bitcoin from the ATMs on Burrard Street in Vancouver. I bought a coffee for, I don't know, probably what would be worth now, like, $10,000 worth of Bitcoin. I just wanted to see if it was real. I did. I was a doubter at the beginning. And I bought Bitcoin, I went to the counter, I paid for a coffee and that coffee's probably costing me 10 grand right now.

Cowboy Smithx:

But it was hard because in early adoptional, which we are right now for NFTs, there's so much doubt. And it creates this cognitive dissonance in you. And I kind of abandoned my Bitcoin obsession. I lost those Bitcoin. I don't know, must have been probably 1.2 worth, which would be now 50 grand worth. But I have to add, I mean, it's a common story. People lose their keys and passcodes, passphrases, computers, some guy-

Jon:

And that's your wallet. [crosstalk 00:10:56] The digital wallet sits on that holds all your assets and your-

Cowboy Smithx:

Yeah. Absolutely. It's similar... Think of a etransfer, right? There's no actual cash exchange there. It's digital code transferred on this ledger system that's owned by the banking system. It's all in the ether. It's all very ephemeral. We trust it now. At one point, remember the days when no one trusted the etransfer? Now everyone's adopted. And I think that's the same thing that's going to happen with blockchain technologies. I envision in the future, probably within 10 years, when you go to the grocery store, you have your cryptocurrency wallet out. And depending on how well that cryptocurrency is doing or trading on that day, you'll use the strongest out of 20 different cryptocurrencies to pay for your groceries.

Katie:

You know, it's interesting because I've read so many people say that NFTs are a trend and they're not going to last, but you're saying that this blockchain technology, NFTs, all of this is here to stay.

Cowboy Smithx:

Yeah. They said the same thing about websites too. And the internet. They said the same thing about Pokemon. That thing became a huge hit. It just depends on what you do with it. Everyone's going to find their own way to utilize the technology. I think the relationship between creatives, I.e. artists, as a filmmaker, one example I can use is Quentin Tarantino found his old handwritten script of Pulp Fiction. And he went to an NFT, digital technologies company, worked with them, and he minted that whole collection of his original dust collectors, all of these items that a lot of his fans would be interested in. And I know he sold those for tens of thousands of dollars.

Katie:

Good for him. I do want to talk about your work in the film industry and I know that you're really active in that. And it wasn't too long ago that I read an article that the Alberta film industry is just booming. And is that... Am I just behind the times, or is this new?

Cowboy Smithx:

It's been a slow crescendo for sure. we've had to wait for certain legislation to pass. The expansion of the tax credit, the caps that were recently improved, or actually, the cap was completely lifted by the recent, I think it was two years ago, the cap was completely lifted 10 million to unlimited, depending on what production, which then enticed HBO, which has been shooting here, The Last of Us for quite a while. Disney's been here. All the big streamers are coming to Alberta. I think it's because it's a tax-friendly space.

Cowboy Smithx:

The crews here are really good. Producers are way more savvy than they were 10 years ago. And we have a bunch of little tips and tricks that producers pull off to save money and make money in their process of getting it onto a platform. So in terms of the film industry and its relationship to NFTs, one thing that I definitely want, I want to give this idea away to everybody, but I would like to create an anticipatory relationship with audiences, much like what a trailer does for a movie. Share some of the content that I'm working on in the narrative space and in the documentary space as well, and build in all of these incentives and utility on the blockchain with these NFTs to incentivize people to support the project, crowdfund for the project, and use it as a marketing tool when we get to the launch point or the premiere of the film.

Jon:

Wow. That's cool.

Cowboy Smithx:

That is wicked.

Jon:

You know, a thing that really strikes me is, and we've talked about the words "early adopter", "entrepreneur", obviously. What do you think... What about you makes you an early adopter and an entrepreneur if you had to define those things?

Cowboy Smithx:

I think just having the sort of bravery to dive into it without having any capacity in the space. I didn't know anything about NFTs 15 months ago. And when I saw that sale for that 69 million dollar People, I was like, "Okay, there's something here. I still don't quite understand it. It's still very foreign to me." I understood it took me about 10 years to figure out cryptocurrency and that blockchain technology. Now with NFTs, I see that there's an opportunity for everyone, including, let's say, the restaurant industry for as an example. They can create NFTs that are passes, dinner for two, or whatever, menus, do all kinds of things to incentivize people to come to their restaurant. And then they walk away with a digital asset that's attached to some broader project or some broader network.

Cowboy Smithx:

That's just a really rough example. Tech companies are going to be coming up with a bunch of different use cases that we're not talking about today. And, and of course, the artists, the person who just makes beautiful art and paints, they can then sort of live off their art and maybe get rid of that day job. The dreaded day job. And just do the art. That's the dream of every artist. Then if you have an artist that you really love and you know that they're creating NFTs, get your MetaMask wallet, get your cryptocurrency, and start supporting them.

Cowboy Smithx:

That's the primary function is community, for us, in this project. It's helping these artists understand the technology, but also helping the general public civic engagement, public engagement, and public education, because it is a bit of a steep learning curve, but a lot of the skills we have in everyday life are transferable to this space.

Jon:

You're a great model for it though, saying 15 months, you didn't know anything about NFTs. Now, granted, you had some experience with blockchain, which helps. But to get to the level you're at now and understanding, being able to explain it in such an articulate way is blowing me away because I've had other people explaining NFTs to me, and maybe I take three or four times and I might not be the sharpest knife or the drawer when it comes to this, but you've explained it in such a way that I'm like, "I think I get it." And that's cool. So if people want to learn more about the work you're doing, where can they go to? Is there a URL that they can check?

Cowboy Smithx:

Yeah, for sure. Our community website is nexusverseyyc.org. You can see the profiles of all the artists there, you have a direct link to our virtual reality. We have a VR gallery where you can throw on the Oculus headset and walk around and be in a three-dimensional space and check out all the art pieces. They're all linked to open. So you can click on them and it takes you directly to the marketplace. So if you have your MetaMask wallet ready to go on your desktop, and there's a piece you like, it's available for you immediately to buy.

Jon:

You can buy it right away.

Katie:

So before we wrap up, you were speaking at Inventures. So what is your session on?

Cowboy Smithx:

We're talking about community. Building community in the space, using this technology to create awareness, to create capacity within the public because there's blank... I've been looking at blank faces for the last four months on this project. And people just trying to understand what blockchain is, understand what cryptocurrency is. And then when you add on top of that confusion, NFTs, it just exacerbates the confusion.

Cowboy Smithx:

So we try to create a tangible example through the journey that these artists are taking by taking their portfolios to the metaverse as NFTs.

Katie:

That's awesome.

Cowboy Smithx:

It's tricky, but we're trying.

Katie:

And then what is next for you? What's your next project?

Cowboy Smithx:

For me, I'm taking a break after this. I'm finally going to take a break this summer. I've been working on all kinds of video projects. I'm still doing filmmaking full-time. I'm a community advocate for the arts community. I was one of the curators for the Chinook Blast Winter Festival. That was awesome and fun.

Cowboy Smithx:

And take a little bit of a break. And then we're hosting the Canadian Country Music Awards. I'm on the host committee. We're doing some really great live concerts. We're hoping to do something in the metaverse. That's still in the works. And of course, I'm always going to advocate for NFT engagement, because I think the sooner we get ahead of that curve, the more advantage our economy in Alberta will have over other areas of the globe, specifically Canada.

Jon:

Cowboy, you're an inspiration. I'm blown away. I loved this conversation.

Cowboy Smithx:

Awesome.

Jon:

Thank you for having the time. I appreciate it.

Katie:

Yes. Thank you.

Jon:

Shift can be found online at shift.albertainnovates.ca, or email us at shift@albertainnovates.ca. On behalf of everyone here, I'm Jon, until next time. Have a great day.