In December 2021, the organizers behind Art Basel Miami made a bold pivot: they dove headfirst into NFTs.
The first in-person edition of the renowned international art fair since pre-pandemic days was, as one reporter put it, “a never-ending party, truly.” Thousands of artists, techies, galleries, collectors, brand ambassadors and crypto investors congregated to celebrate the explosive new art scene that’s dominating the world.
Miami, and Florida at large, never exactly went full-lockdown during the pandemic. But several events, including Art Basel, were canceled anyway, and only now is society recovering from those years of social isolation with confidence and enthusiasm. In many ways, NFTs—which gained mainstream popularity during those lockdown days—are now enjoying an explosive emergence along with people in general.
Exclusive clubs like Club Infinite Miami are sprouting up, combining virtual and physical spaces for members only. Traditional nightclubs are buying NFTs and wrapping them into their brand: E11EVEN bought a Bored Ape for 99 ETH in December, worth nearly $400,000. (They’re also hosting “NFT Nights” and have processed nearly $4 million in crypto payments since accepting that form of currency.)
These events aren’t exclusive to Miami. New York and Los Angeles are always going to be major American cultural hubs, while Austin’s South By Southwest festival keeps it at the forefront of art movements like these. But Miami is a unique case. The city is well known as a global intersection of fine arts, wild parties and luxurious style, making it a perfect ground zero for NFT drops, clubs and events.
How NFTs took over the Gold Coast
In the past week, acclaimed New York–based pop artist Kristin Simmons announced her debut NFT collection, Feeling Cray—not in New York, but in Miami. Her announcement comes days before Miami NFT Week takes over the Mana Wynwood Convention Center for three days, drawing Mark Cuban and the city’s mayor as keynote speakers, among dozens of others. Meanwhile, Michelle Abbs, founder of the group Web3 Equity, which promotes gender equity in the Web3 space, is based in Fort Lauderdale; earlier in March, they dropped 3,050 NFTs in a project called The Tuttle Tribe, honoring the “Mother of Miami”, Julia Tuttle.
Despite all this mainstream attention, it would be wrong to assume that NFT enthusiasts are integrating smoothly within Miami’s traditional art space. There are still clear divisions. If anything, NFT and Web3 proponents are finding more success coming up from more alternative spaces, which leads to galleries and nightclubs. The Art Basel pivot was enormous news for that very reason—it marked one of the first major art events that embraced NFTs wholeheartedly—but even there, the NFT exhibits were held in different areas from the traditional ones. That tells me organizers and curators are more concerned with trying to please everyone than to integrate NFTs into the traditional art world.
More than just NFTs
This trend plays into a broader theme of Miami’s transformation into a global tech hub. As I’ve written before for this website, Mayor Francis Suarez—a bitcoin evangelist himself—has been a dogged advocate for bringing tech firms and remote workers to the city, which hired its first chief technology officer earlier in 2021. Lauded as a rising tech hub, with attractive weather and low tax rates, Miami has enjoyed an undeniable migration of workers fleeing unaffordable housing in San Francisco and New York City.
The challenge, I wrote then, was always going to be retention. Remote workers may have fled New York for the sunny Gold Coast during the pandemic, but what happens in a few years? The things people enjoy—culture, sports, infrastructure and festivals—are what keep people living in one spot.
That’s partly what made Art Basel’s embrace of NFTs such a big deal. I see a clear through-line between the influx of remote workers and tech firms to Miami, and its institutional embrace of NFTs. Municipal and cultural leaders are acknowledging the need to promote and celebrate the kind of art that matters to a new generation of enthusiasts. As technology continues to improve, and NFTs grow ever-more sophisticated and mainstream, cities that laid the groundwork early—like Miami has—will reap the benefits.