Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) – digital assets – have been receiving attention in recent months for the millions of dollars investors are spending on sports clips, collages, gifs and other crypto-art.

An NFT is a piece of digital artwork minted on blockchain and sold over dozens of online marketplaces in cryptocurrencies, such as Ether and Bitcoin.

With investors and art collectors worldwide taking notice, Melaw Nakehk’o said NFTs are an opportunity for Northern artists to access global audiences remotely without the need for art dealers. Anyone with computer access and some basic programs can create NFTs, Nakehk’o said.

“We don’t need to be in a bigger centre to get in a gallery to start actually making a living,” she said.

Nakehk’o is creating a collective of Dene digital artists to merge their skills of art, music, animation and digital rendering to collaborate on creating NFTs on the blockchain marketplace Foundation.

The collective approach, Nakehk’o said, not only brings artists’ skill sets together, it also helps to build a relationship with investors by regularly creating NFTs and engaging with loyal collectors.

The blockchain – a shared, decentralized ledger – maintains records of assets as they exchange hands. As NFTs are bought and sold, original artists are granted royalties.

Those royalties, Nakehk’o said, are a perk of the digital marketplace compared to a physical piece of art, which can be bought and resold many times over with artists only earning revenue on their one-time original sale while middle men see huge profits.

“It’s shifting power from how things have been traditionally done with galleries and art dealers and it’s really opening up for artists like us up here,” she said. “It’s very exciting. Nothing like this has happened in the art world since like the ’80s.”

Mikey McBryan, Buffalo Airways general manager and former cast member of TV show Ice Pilots, compared the current NFT landscape to the early days of YouTube. While the market may seem intimidating in its infancy, “in three or four years this will be a completely viable way for someone to to make a living,” he predicted.

“People can actually make money at home,” McBryan said, “which is better for Northerners because we don’t have access to everything that people have down south.”

He has been selling NFTs of his own in recent weeks. He plans to create 250 pixel-art airplanes as part of his Crypto Air Force collection selling on OpenSea – a popular NFT marketplace. He has so far released about half of his crypto-fleet and earned nearly $1,000 on the digital planes.

Mikey McBryan is selling an Avro Lancaster NFT for 0.073 ETH or $193. The proceeds will be donated to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. Google Screengrab.

A yellow North American Harvard is McBryan’s best seller to date. He donated the $160 raised to the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association, an Ontario aviation museum that owns the aircraft after which the NFT is modelled.

A token of the Avro Lancaster, a Canadian-built plane famous for its contribution to the Second World War effort, is now listed for 0.073 ETH or $193. McBryan plans to donate the proceeds to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, which owns one of the two Lancasters still in flying condition.

McBryan designs the tokens on a free program on his phone. He said fans from his former TV fame and his current YouTube channel suggest planes for him to create.

McBryan creates the digital tokens on a free program on his phone. He said fans through his former television appearances and YouTube presence suggest which aircrafts to mint next. Natalie Pressman/NNSL photo

Though he has never involved himself in blockchain investments before, McBryan said NFTs are “a way for normal people to interact with cryptocurrency.”

Still, he said there are some barriers to entry. The biggest are minting and gas fees – a charge users pay for the computing energy required to process and validate transactions on blockchain. Gas fees fluctuate depending on platform and time of day.

Putting money into something as volatile and shrouded in uncertainty as blockchain is “like taking a leap,” McBryan acknowledged. If artists can take that jump, he predicted NFTs will be huge in remote places like the North.

“It is a way for artists to now reach the world without the intermediary of art collectors and galleries.”

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