Fashion / Shopping

Making the World of NFTs and Digital Art More Accessible — Francine Ballard’s New Houston Company is a Golden Game Changer

METAgolden Launches With Pioneering Art Rebel Ashley Longshore as its First Collaborator

BY // 06.16.21

Bitcoin changed the world of money and now NFTs are changing the world of coveted collectables. Digitally. From art to design to music to sports, non-fungible tokens are emerging as some of the most coveted and unique items you can own.

The power of blockchain technology (which allows for the ownership of NFTs to be verified) and NFTs are bringing a world once stereotyped as a playground for young male tech nerds and gamers to the mainstream. Mike Winkelmann – a digital artist known as Beeple — sent shockwaves through the art world when an NFT of his work sold for $69 million at a Christie’s auction. No wonder why so many top artists are embracing NFTs. Storied fashion houses such as Gucci and Burberry are adding NFTs to their luxury repertoires, too.

Now, Houston’s own Francine Ballard is jumping into the digital art world by launching METAgolden, an innovative, approachable way to buy NFTs. Ballard’s METAgolden is a virtual gallery, where you can buy a piece of original, verified digital art that is not only tied to the blockchain with an NFT, but tied to a tangible asset in the form of fine jewelry.

Ballard — who is PaperCity‘s Style Editor at Large — curates the artists she collaborates with and creates the jewelry from her own designs that correspond with each piece of digital art. And no crytpo wallets are needed. You can purchase the NFT and jewelry combinations directly from METAgolden’s website.

Despite the major buzz being created by the record-breaking NFT sales, barriers to entry into this crypto world remain. Aside from mustering enough knowledge of the complicated concept to set up a cryptowallet to purchase, unfamiliarity and uncertainty hold many back.

METAgolden offers a way to dip your toe into digital art world while also securing a distinctive piece of physical jewelry.

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With METAgolden launching today (June 16), we learn more from Ballard in this exclusive PaperCity interview.

What do you say to people who are intimidated by the crypto world? Or to those who may not have a crypto wallet?

I say I get it. It is different and scary and new, or at least new to most people. I too was leery at one point, but it’s happening. You may as well be in front of the curve, and not behind it. You don’t have to invest in Bitcoin to collect crypto art.

That’s part of my company METAgolden’s value proposition. We are providing a platform for the consumer to dip their feet in the crypto pond without getting submerged in it.

Do you foresee this digital movement shifting more than just the art world?

Yes, it will touch everything. I think Ethereum is a game-changer. The easiest way to think of the difference between the two protocols is that one (Bitcoin) authenticates/transfers numbers, and the other (Ethereum) authenticates/transfers information but also has its own currency (Eth) which is used transactionally to convert other digital currencies. Without getting too technical, Ethereum allows users to create smart contracts called NFT‘s which exist in perpetuity and cannot be compromised.

In this way, anything of value will eventually be attached to one of these smart contracts. Everything you can think of including your house, your car, a marriage certificate, a birth certificate, medical records, literally anything that is important will someday be attached to the Blockchain. This technology will revolutionize authentication and distribution of valuable assets and the way we transact as we know it.

What attracted you to get involved in the crypto art space?

I was initially drawn to the space through the currency, one in particular, Eth (of Ethereum) because of the colossal commercial power I believe it possesses. Eth is used in the NFT space, but it was born from the same technology that Bitcoin uses to transact (blockchain).

The advent and adoption of cryptocurrencies has evened the international social and economic playing field and I believe this is the single most transformational moment since the Internet itself came into existence in the ’90s. The more I learn about the space, the deeper I fall into it and the more obsessed I become. And I’m not alone in that.

Once your eyes are open to what’s possible you can never see the world in quite the same way again. The currency itself is just the tip of the iceberg. There are all sorts of things happening in the Metaverse: virtual reality and decentralized finance, a frictionless economy etc. It’s like a mesmerizing glimpse into the future, yet it already exists. That’s what most people don’t understand.

How does METAgolden differ from what currently exists in the digital art world?

In my view art that exists there now skews very young, and very male – the early adopters. There is a white space in terms of female participation and unfortunately the same goes for cryptocurrency and technology in general.  In order for women to be comfortable with or curious about purchasing digital art, there first needs to be art that appeals to their aesthetic sensibility.

That is where I hope to bridge the gap with the art – by incorporating and collaborating with more female artists and art that appeals to women. Something you would be proud to display in your home.

When you purchase digital art you are issued a token. Not a physical piece, but a sequence of code that says you own it. What’s different about what we are doing is that when you purchase digital art from METAgolden, you receive a physical keepsake in the form of a piece of beautiful, wearable gold jewelry instead. And that jewelry is incorporated in the art.

Then we store the art for you in our digital vault so that our customer can view it anytime, but doesn’t need to have digital currency or a crypto wallet to enjoy it. We do all the heavy lifting on the crypto side so our clients don’t have to mess with it until they are ready to sell. Nothing like this currently exists.

We’ve only created a few pieces so far. Sometimes the art flows from the jewelry, but the inverse is also true. Many times the jewelry is inspired by art. I’m surprised by how many requests we have had for custom jewelry. We designed a signet ring for one client and used her family crest.

One thing that will always be consistent though is the weight and heft of the piece. METAgolden is showcasing gold as an asset and value-based purchase, so it’s important that the pieces we create are solid 18 karat gold, and have some weight to them. Nothing we have designed weighs less than 15 grams and most are 30 plus, which is way heavier than most commercial jewelry. You feel the difference right away.

metagolden art
METAgolden brings fine jewelry and digital art together.

The customer knows that what they are buying has real value and will sustain and endure over time. My hope is to begin to create bigger, more meaningful pieces and therefore bigger, more meaningful investment opportunities. And that people will collect the jewelry as they would a piece of art, since they are all limited-edition collections themselves.

What do you look for in an artist that you collaborate with?

Our first collaboration next month is with artist, Ashley Longshore. She is a good friend of mine and I have collected her work for years. I have always admired her courageous (and sometimes outrageous) pro-women stance.

She is self-made and lifts up great female icons like Frida Kahlo, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and most recently even painted Paxton Smith. Her art is irreverent, and I think will resonate in the crypto space. She has a very passionate fan base. It was frankly a no-brainer.

She was always the right partner. She also supports up-and-coming artists which is crucial to our mission and platform.

Ashley Longshore strikes a pose in the middle of her pop-up gallery.
Artist Ashley Longshore

Do you expect crypto art to soon be appreciated the same way as physical art and becoming more “mainstream”?

The digital art world is evolving at a frenetic pace. We have only recently figured out a way to even monetize digital art through NFTs, but I fully anticipate the space growing, if not ultimately eclipsing the art world as we know it. As we become increasingly more dependent on technology it will only become more relevant. However, that is not to say it is not relevant now.

With the sales we’ve seen in the digital space through premier auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s these past couple of months I don’t think anyone would question its legitimacy. At this point, it is not a question of if,  it is a question of when it will become mainstream. Digital art has created a new medium for artists and a new market for consumers. It has taken the power away from traditional art institutions and galleries and put it directly in the hands of the artist.

It is inspiring because we are at the beginning of this evolution. The ground is literally shifting beneath our feet and there are those who are still completely oblivious to it. There are crypto museums that already house billions of dollars worth of digital art. El Salvador now accepts Bitcoin as a form of legal tender.

People are trading real cars and houses for crypto and crypto art, and paying obscene prices at auction (ie: Christie’s $69 million Beeple sale). To give an analogy, Beeple is to digital art what Warhol was to pop art. It’s fascinating and exhilarating to watch and be a part of.

How do you think people consume or enjoy this art and jewelry differently than what we know as typical?

Gen Z, the Zoomers generation consumes all media differently, including art. Their worldview is predicated on experiences versus consumption. They are much more interested in value, and much more transparent and open in terms of what they put on public display. Digital art can only be viewed on electronic media.

So in your home it can be viewed from a lucite frame with a QR code, or a digital screen. But the true value in this art for the younger generations is simply to own something cool, and for everyone to know it.

How do you see these pieces as a unique investment?

META provides a unique platform for investment because we are combining two very different, yet complementary assets: NFTs/digital art (bought and sold with crypto) and gold jewelry. One is highly lucrative, but also volatile; the other, one of the safest historical investment vehicles in existence

I envision building a brand where one can feel comfortable, safe and proud of the smart investment they have made in both, simultaneously. In a way it’s a hedge – if one goes down you always have the other. And either can be bought or sold independently from each other at any time.

What is your hope for METAgolden to grow in the future?

I believe that now, more than ever, consumers are yearning for what I like to call smart luxury, or investing primarily in pieces that will appreciate over time. It is my dream to cater to that audience and provide a bridge to what has historically been a somewhat intimidating space.

Investing doesn’t need to be painful. It can be fun and beautiful too.

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