Arkive wants to build the first “decentralized, physical museum”.

An organization called Arkive, which launched out of stealth mode on Wednesday, aims to harness the power of the internet to build what it calls the first decentralized, physical museum.

Arkive accepts people from all over the world as members, with around 200 registrations so far and another 800 on a waiting list, and allows them to vote on which historical and artistic artifacts the museum will acquire. The museum intends to store the items long-term but not construct a single site to house them. Instead, they are made accessible to the public through loans to other institutions. The museum is currently accepting about 50 new members per month, but plans to accelerate this process to have about 10,000 enrollments by the end of 2023.

For the museum’s first exhibition, existing members acquired a historic bonded patent application for the ENIAC, a groundbreaking mid-20th century digital computer. “You wouldn’t benefit if you didn’t have the first computer,” says Arkive co-founder Tom McLeod, who previously ran the now-defunct storage and equipment rental platform Omni.

The second acquisition, a 1980s print entitled “Seduction” by artist Lynn Hershman Leeson, features a woman with her head replaced by a television – itself a commentary on the relationship between art, gender and technology.

“Seduction” [Image: courtesy of Arkive]

These two purchases are intended to tour in an upcoming Arkive-sponsored touring exhibition, and thereafter likely to be housed in appropriate public museums, effectively on long-term loan from Arkive, the organization said.

“We don’t want it on anyone’s private walls,” says McLeod. “We want it all out”

Future acquisitions, occurring roughly every month, will focus on a periodically changing theme – the current theme of the next six acquisitions is “When Technology Was a Game Changer” – and will all be chosen by Arkive members.

“ENIAC” [Image: courtesy of Arkive]

At the moment there is no membership fee as the early art purchases will be funded from the approximately $9.7 million in VC funding secured by Arkive, although the organization will likely charge money for various subscriptions and events in the future. Prospective members are asked to fill out a broadly worded application asking about their occupations and hobbies. According to McLeod, early members include former gallery buyers, museum curators, and collectors of everything from rare books to trading cards.

Members communicate via Discord and cast their votes using their Ethereum wallets – McLeod says the technology could potentially be opened up to other organizations in the future – and there is talk of launching NFTs tied to membership. But Arkive appears to have plans to avoid some of the problems that have plagued previous attempts to democratize large-scale art and artifact purchases (see: the failed attempt to buy an early copy of the US Constitution and the online consortium that paid an unexpectedly large amount to adapt director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s pitch duneperhaps under the mistaken belief that the document came with the actual film rights).

[Image: courtesy of Arkive]

McLeod says Arkive will seek to work through connections with sellers such as galleries rather than going to public auctions, and he expects these connections will only grow in number as more art lovers seek membership. Galleries will ideally also benefit from some publicity, as members will consider works for sale even if they don’t make it, and the works they sell may gain more exposure through the sale and subsequent publicity. Arkive hosted a public Twitter Spaces conversation with “Seduction” artist Leeson, as well as a members-only Zoom Q&A, he says.

Arkive’s policy of lending works to existing museums for display should also eliminate many storage costs. The lack of a single location will also give Arkive more flexibility than a traditional museum in what to acquire, McLeod suggests. And while Arkive, like any museum, may occasionally sell works for various purposes, McLeod plans that the organization plans to retain ownership of the majority of its acquisitions, he says.

“We’d like to call this a permanent collection,” he says.

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