CEO selling NFTs of Confederate monuments he took down

CEO selling NFTs of Confederate monuments he took down
CEO selling NFTs of Confederate monuments he took down

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — After removing the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond and nearly two dozen other statues across the city and state, Devon Henry is trying to raise money for charity by selling digital artwork inspired by their removal in the cryptocurrency market.

CryptoFederacy, Henry’s newest venture, recently launched its first series of artworks with the goal of raising a total of $13 million for various non-profit and social justice groups, including affordable housing development, gun violence prevention, access to mental health care, and voting rights.

The 45-year-old CEO of Team Henry Enterprises, the contractor hired by the state and the cities of Richmond and Charlottesville to take down Confederate monuments, said he founded the new company after reflecting on what to do next after participating in the historical endeavour.

“The statues are down. But what’s next?” Henry said in an interview. “It’s about keeping the momentum going and keeping awareness of what these statues have meant — and taking a negative narrative and turning it into something positive.”

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered the removal of the Confederate monuments in the former capital of the Confederacy in 2020, amid nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd. The orders came after several other states and localities around the country made similar moves to take down tributes to the Confederacy after a white supremacist killed nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, SC five years earlier.

Henry said he was concerned when the governor’s chief of staff first approached him about removing the Lee monument. He was inclined to take it, but considered the fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and how a contractor truck in New Orleans was firebombed.

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Henry, who is black, said he consulted his wife and children. They discussed what it would mean to remove the monuments that generations of people believed had represented oppression and racism and the risks that might entail.

“We came to the conclusion that we have to do this,” he said. “We must take these matters into our own hands and be courageous in doing so.”

Henry said the goal of CryptoFederacy is to leverage the rise of new technologies such as Web3 and non-fungible tokens (NFT) to raise money for social justice.

Founded earlier this year, the organization’s first project is The Thirteen Stars, a collection of digital art that includes 3D models of Confederate monuments overlaid with newspaper headlines and illustrations of the statues with graffiti surrounding them.

Anthony Bartley, who goes by the stage name Fading Royalty, has created most of the artwork for the collection.

Bartley, 24, who is currently based in St. Louis, where he attended Washington University, said he was excited to participate in the project after curating a photo book of the 2020 protests. Proceeds from the book’s sales went to the NAACP’s legal defense fund .

Creating the artwork, he said, “brought me back to being in the middle of doing something bigger than myself. And it felt good to be a part of that, especially knowing that the proceeds go to charity.”

The name of the collection is a reference to the 13 stars of the Confederate “Southern Cross” battle flag, as well as each of the 13 causes that CryptoFederacy intends to grant $1 million with the proceeds from the sale of the artwork.

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Michael Garvey, an economist and artist involved in the project, created three pieces for the collection. One of them shows an alien plane “abducting” the statue of Robert E. Lee, while another shows all the monuments strewn in an arcade claw machine game.

Garvey, 33, said his work is meant to symbolize progress into the “future” and how the project is meant to claim the monuments.

“It could be like taking some of the oppression … caused by the culture around the statues and taking money from this NFT project to relieve some of that pressure on us,” he said.

Henry said CryptoFederacy is still engaging potential nonprofit and charitable partners for the project, but has already reached agreements with the Richmond-based Better Housing Coalition and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to support scholarships for historically black colleges and universities.

Other artists have also sought to raise money from the sale of NFTs recently. For example, the Russian feminist art collective and punk rock group Pussy Riot earlier this year helped raise over $7 million in support of Ukraine during the Russian invasion of the country, according to media reports.

Customers can bid on The Thirteen Stars artwork using the cryptocurrency ethereum. The auction website for the artwork says the minimum bid for each piece is 105 wrapped ethers, which equates to about $182,000.

In addition to acquiring ownership rights to the artwork through the blockchain, a kind of digital public ledger that is the basis for cryptocurrency and NFT ownership, buyers will receive a small physical object from one of the monuments.

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Henry said he chose to embrace the emerging cryptocurrency market and emerging art platform as a way to also encourage black entrepreneurship in an emerging market.

“I just feel like at some point it’s going to be a part of our lives,” he said. “I saw a lot of the stuff out there in the NFT space, and I thought this could be something more meaningful and historical that people can get behind and understand.”

Henry said he expects the auction for the artwork to remain open online until the end of August. He said CryptoFederacy will also release a second collection of NFT artwork later this summer.

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