This article originally appeared on Forbes on April 30, 2021.
I recently had the pleasure to speak with Ameer Carter, one of the founders of the Mint Fund. Mint Fund provides creators with funds needed to mint their first NFT, and pritortizes BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ creators; especially those outside of North America and the EU.
As such, Carter and his fund exemplify the “purpose not product” approach that I believe is so necessary to not only succeed, but to be able to have the type of mindset that allows you to take a longer-term view on emerging technologies in order to filter out the axiomatic noise and distraction that accompanies the hype cycles/loud naysaying that tends to accompany them.
Below is an excerpt from our conversation:
Ameer Carter: The thing that really is exciting to me, beyond the monetary value — and this is really hitting the creative immortality lens — is the fact that we can preserve culture. If I think about my own community, as a Black American, our traditions are oral mostly. We do have written books and things of that nature, but for a long time, none of our stuff could be recorded. We couldn’t even read or write for a certain period of time in American history. So we don’t have the same level or written works or painted works or things of that nature that are readily accessible to us. But people have always passed down things to us via song and via stories that we heard.
George Howard: This is something so near and dear to me. To me, this is the thing: Black culture has had their voices silenced, their art appropriated by white people, with no or little-to-no credit, and certainly no financial benefit. You know for me the thing that absolutely destroys me is the South Bronx, in the late seventies, and DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash actually taking Rock’n’Roll records — which were obviously built upon Black people’s rhythms — and Grandmaster Flash pulling the record backwards. To me, that was the gesture of reclamation. But even to this day, people kind of know Grandmaster Flash, but nobody knows Kool Herc, right? But everyone knows Eminem. Again, all props to Eminem, but this is why [Blockchain tech, social tokens, NFTs are] interesting to me: The provenance of creation, and particularly as it resonates to the actual creators. Not the rent seekers, not the people who just steal the ideas. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Amen Break; the video on YouTube where they track back the beat.
A: Absolutely. That’s what drives me too. There’s a lot of conversation of people saying, “Oh [crypto is] a scam, and it’s this that,” people are really caught up on the financial implications and the financial corrections that are happening and sometimes some of them are super exaggerated. When people harp on the numbers, they aren't harping on the actual humanitarian efforts that this technology can actually provide us. People were saying, especially a lot of crypto maximalists were saying, “Oh, crypto can change the world.” Well it can, but the technology gives us the level of affordance, to where this thing could be much easier to do. But we still as people have to do that work. If we are not actively doing that….
Carter created the Mint Fund to — as he states above — achieve the purpose of “creative immortality.” Such an audacious aspiration is in fact achievable through Blockchain tech and its immutable ledger characteristic.
Historically, our “ledgers” have been very mutable, with the mutations tending towards accrediting white hegemony. Phrases, such as “white washing” and “history is written by the winners,” are increasingly seen for what they are: racist and oppressive.
This deeply overdue awareness is a sign of progress, but aspirational intent without structural change is meaningless. The two — aspiration and structure — can combine through technological advances such as Blockchain tech…. but only if and when access to such tools is universal.
Historically, of course, technology, education, finances, and so many other prerequisites for success, have been vastly more accessible to white males than to others, and simply by looking at the makeup of the majority of Blockchain-tech based initiatives, this unequal access is prevalent within this sector as well.
Tellingly, while Blau is credited as the original artist to utilize NFTs for his art, it was actually Black artists Connie Digital and Harrison First who utilized social tokens first. Credit is important; it builds brand equity, which generates influence and access. This so-called “audit trail” feature of Blockchain tech thus is much more than a technological innovation; it has the potential to be a cultural and equitable one as well. But…again, it requires access.
This is where Mint Fund and Carter come in:
A: Mint Fund basically works like this: If you are a Black person, an indigenous person, or a person of color, and you are global, no matter where you are. We largely deal with, well we want to capture more people that are outside of the United States and the EU because these communities are the folks that definitely have other challenges that folks in the United States and the EU by and large don’t have. Mainly, a lot of us have really good access to the internet for the most part. We have really good access to the tools and technology afforded to us to make art and to at least put it out digitally. And we do have easier access to crypto, even though, for instance, the United States has regulation. If you’re in New York City like myself, it’s definitely harder, but it’s not the end of the world. You can still make things happen. But for everywhere else, the cost of minting, especially at the time, when this thing was really really expensive, and it’s so largely expensive now, is a rent payment for many places outside the United States.
G: That’s exactly right. It continues the white male hegemony of access. If you don’t have the money to mint the NFT or the gas money, you’re just shit out of luck. So that’s the problem you’re solving right? You’re saying, we will supply you with the funds, or whatever access needed to mint it. And then what? How do you curate it? How do you support it? What’s your take in it? Do you get a piece of the action? How do you make your money?
A: Here’s the beautiful thing about Mint Fund: we want to build something that is truly altruistic. We’re a social enterprise. We’re not for-profit and no we’re not non-profit either.”
G: Are you a B Corp?
A: We’re building a DAO structure, in which allows us to also be registered as a B Corporation. Mint Fund is a part of an ecosystem that I’m building centered around folks of color; the goal is to become an artist-owned curation DAO that deals with the development of artists over time. I’m building a platform and also a social token that tackles both the commercial element and the exterior curation of artists and collectors. I am very, very excited to be bringing these projects to light. We’re currently looking for investment opportunities to enforce the commercial elements of what we’re building. The one thing I do want to mention about Mint Fund too is that part of it’s goal is to be an example as far as how people can build social enterprise within the crypto space. It would benefit not only those who are building it, but all of its participants, its entire community, in creating somewhat of a self-sustaining ecosystem for good.
Mr. Carter and I spoke at length, and the above are just some of the highlights. Below are some excerpts of our conversation that don’t fit neatly into the above, but very much do merit inclucsion in this article.
Mr. Carter’s background
A: When I was in university, this was like 2011, I was studying everything, and then I finally landed on service design after two and a half years. Most of my tract was in behavioral science, so I spent a lot of time studying anthropology. And then service design was great because a lot of it was rooted in behavioral science first, before actually going into design topics and methodologies. Thankfully, even though I had spent most of my earlier years in uni learning graphic design, architecture, a little bit of fashion, some industrial design, and even interactive design, game development, I was able to take a lot of those courses and kind of like round those out. I sort of replaced them with other classes that I would have taken with the normal curriculum. I managed to hack college to make it my own thing.
G: I love that. You’re a polymath; you’ve got lots of varied interests. I always find that those are the best types of entrepreneurs. You could argue that, “Oh you've got to really specialize in computer science or whatever.” And there's an argument for that, but I think that if you can have that humanities approach and then marry that with technology. That tends to be better over the long term.
A: I totally agree because I feel like it's one of those things where you start to train your muscles to be more empathetic and sympathetic towards humanity. So, you have this ability to really kinda look at things from both an objective and a subjective lens, and kinda know when to toggle between the two. So that you can get the best melding of how to approach problems. It’s obviously not perfect, but you get closer to ensuring that whomever you’re servicing, whatever kind of community that you’re a part of, that it comes from a real place. It’s not just, “I am building a thing, and I am going to supplant it into a community.” But it’s more of, these solutions are birthed from being a part of a community and really getting a kinship. I feel like that’s when you make the best work, when everyone feels involved.
Mint Fund’s Genesis and Purpose
A: So, Mint Fund. February probably 2nd I think, friend of mine, Leighton McDonald again who turned me onto this and sent me the Rarible link, so thank you Leighton. You can put me down the rabbit hole of greatness. He was like, “Hey,” on Twitter he said, “I wanna mint on Zora, but minting is expensive, I wanna crowdfund it. Whoever puts in, I have ten spots, you’ll get a portion of the proceeds if you pitch in.” So I’m like, “You know what, it’s my friend, I’m going to just hook him up, so here’s fifty bucks.” One of my founding partners of Mint Fund as well, Carlos, before we found anything together, reached out and was like, “Dude, whatever you’re usually doing in this space is super interesting, and I want in. I don’t even know what it is, but I want in, so here’s ten bucks.” And I am like “bet,” so I send that over too. A week later, February 11th, I get a cash out of six hundred bucks. Like what? Why would Leighton pay me six hundred dollars? I go on Twitter, and realize it sold. I pinged Carlos and said, “Dude, you just got a hundred bucks.” He said, “No way.” And I’m like, “Okay, so look, what do we want to do with this? How do you want your hundred?” He said, “You know what keep it. Better yet, how about this? Let’s just pay it forward. You have a hundred bucks, I have a hundred bucks. We both have some Zora invites, let’s go ahead and put out a Tweet and say, “We’re going to pay it forward.” So I do. The Tweet goes bananas. Folks are like, “Yo, I want one!” Actually, a lot of people really were saying before they even wanted one, a lot of people were saying, “I want to donate as well. Here, I have a hundred bucks, I’ve got an invite, I got this, I got that.” I’m like, “Oh my God, everyone wants to give. This is amazing!” So then Zora comes to me and says, “Well we have fifty invites and ten Eth, let’s do it then.” Of course! Why not? So I go to Carlos I say, “So, Zora just offered me ten Eth, I am not accepting that in my wallet; we need a different wallet for this. Let’s just set up a multi sig and just make this official.” He’s like, “Yeah, let’s just make it a Mint Fund and we will just pay for people’s mints.”
A: Mint Fund basically works like this: If you are a Black person, an indigenous person, or a person of color, and you are global, no matter where you are. We largely deal with, well we want to capture more people that are outside of the United States and the EU because these communities are the folks that definitely have other challenges that folks in the United States and the EU by and large don’t have. Mainly, a lot of us have really good access to the internet for the most part. We have really good access to the tools and technology afforded to us to make art and to at least put it digitally. And we do have easier access to crypto, even though, for instance, the United States has regulation. If you’re in New York City like myself, it’s definitely harder, but it’s not the end of the world. You can still make things happen. But for everywhere else, the cost of minting, especially at the time, when this thing was really really expensive, and it’s so largely expensive now, is a rent payment for many places outside the United States.
A: Here’s the beautiful thing about Mint Fund: we want to build something that is truly altruistic. We’re a social enterprise. We’re not for-profit and no we’re not non-profit either.
A: Right. Longer term for the Mint Fund is: An artist owned community. We want the artist to own the Mint Fund as the Mint Fund gets larger.
G: So an exit to community kind of strategy.
A: Exactly. Exit to community. Exactly. That’s one. The Second is that our goals are much more ambitious than just paying for Mint Fees. We want to develop artists. We want to make sure that when you join the Mint Fund, that you’re armed not only with the ability to mint, but the network and the tools that enable you to make your best and most ambitious projects. We want to be an artist incubation spot.
On The Challenges of Access for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ and how Mint Fund, specifically, and Blockchain tech, generally, addresses this
G: Well, I wanna hear more about the Mint Fund. There’s not enough diversity of representation in this space, and one way to hopefully not recreate the past mistakes is to not have it just be a bunch of white dudes setting the agenda. So, talk a little bit about what you’re doing to address that.
A: Absolutely man. So after going through this sort of realization that this space could actually be super powerful. I just went to work. I started minting my own stuff as an artist, really just trying to get into the community. I was in every discord for every platform. I was trying to say, “Okay, well when we’re doing these things, how do we make sure that we ensure that other people have an entry in?” You know, anyone can check my Twitter especially from September on, I was always talking about accessibility. Just making sure even people who had different challenges could also access the same technology that we have, before I even got into racial and ethnic diversity. But even with that said, I was like, “Okay, art is great, but there’s a greater purpose that I could do here. I have a design background, I can code, I can galvanize a group of people to help me build a common cause. Why don’t I focus a lot of my effort in doing that?” Art I’m always going to do, but I think that takes somewhat of a backseat towards this effort of making things better.
G: Well for sure. Coining a phrase here: it’s like “technology imperialism.” It's like, “Okay, we technologists are going to hoist this onto you, consumer, via our vantage point.” Which is bullshit right? This is one of the things that is so attractive to me about what you’re doing specifically. And but what I hope is kind of, not to throw away this term, is web free generally. I was a guest on a podcast today, and I was talking through one of the most interesting things to me about Web 3 VR is that it could create empathy. Like, I watch my 15 year old son play Fortnite, and he’s a cis-gendered white young man, but he’ll play all day as a person of color female, and like that’s innately empathy building. Yet, people don’t think about that. That’s what the tech is there for. Tech for tech’s sake is just jive. It goes back to the whole purpose, not product. So again, you’re an interesting kind of humanities-based person but that also knows how to write code, and got interested in Blockchain. Is that a fair assessment?
A: Yeah, pretty much. I remember coding as early as right before MySpace. I had to learn how to create certain accounts to get into certain subnets, because you had to be a certain age. And I was just like, “Okay, well I’m seven, but I wanna get into this fashion blog. How do I trick this forum to know that I’m thirteen and above to get into this fashion blog?” Shoutout to Aim chat for really having me. The first group of pen pals. These people were definitely nineteen or more and they’re talking to me and they’re like, “Yeah, so how old are you?” And I’m like, “Yeah, you know I’m thirteen”. And they’re like, “What?? You talk like you’re seven”. It's like “yea…”
A: For Mint Fund, there’s two levels. For me being a participant in this space, my goal is to activate and engage Black Culture into crypto. This just means that we have the ability to document and record our cultural past, and build our cultural future at the same time. Because, in order to achieve that level of creative immortality, we need to be able to reconcile with the things we’ve already made. It doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be in the same form of an NFT or whatever the case is, but it does mean that we should have all of our references available and easily accessible. I always think about the institutions like Fisk or institutions like Yale for instance, or even MOMA, right? How much of our work has been purchased over the years that has never seen the light of day? That has never been shown in a show before, that hasn’t been intellectualized, that doesn't have the type of attention or appeal that centralized institutions assign it to have or to not have. How many of us artists couldn’t have existed had we yet seen ourselves in the thirties, and the forties, and the fifties right? I think of some of the artists who had some of that opportunity that you know? I forget his name, but he was a janitor…
G: Willie Dixon
A: Yes! Thank you. I think about his story, and I’m like well, “Crypto can enable more of these things.” Where we have this level of patronage that folks are looking at cultural folks and saying: “I wanna help you make work. I want to fuel your creativity.” Right?
G: Yeah. Without a lot of intermediaries and rent seekers.
A: Absolutely. The thing is, it’s one thing to be an artist in this space, but it’s a whole other thing too to find out, “Okay, now what? I’ve made some money. What do I do?” And it’s like… If Crypto is about decentralization and it’s about being your own bank and doing everything. The sovereignty is tied to you and your permission and your level of access, whatever you give. Then we have to make sure that everyone understands that entire landscape. And that art, and the creative craft in this building is just the gateway into the rest of the crypto ecosystem.
G: If we don’t, the same thing will happen. The people that have the knowledge, and that tends to be white males because they have the access to the knowledge will take advantage of those who don’t. That’s what has happened historically forever. It’s on us to not let that happen. We should mint a token around education. This is the thing that gets me excited. We can create incentives gamified. You go through this course, you get more tokens. There’s lots of ways we can do it. But I’m telling you, if we don’t, the bad actors, and even the not bad actors, people will just use their knowledge asymmetries to their own benefit. That’s what humans do. So we have to flatten that.
A: Yeah, absolutely. Mint Fund is a part of an ecosystem that I’m building centered around folks of color. And I’m also, where Mint Fund is, the goal is to become an artist-owned curation DAO that deals with the development of artists over time. I’m building a platform and also a social token that tackles both the commercial element and the exterior curation of artists and collectors that is currently being developed right now. I am very very excited to really be bringing these projects to light. We’re currently looking for investment opportunities to enforce the commercial things we’re building. The one thing I do want to mention about Mint Fund too is that part of it’s goal to being…you know what I want is to create an example as far as how people can build social enterprise within the crypto space. It would benefit not only those who are building it, but all of its participants, its entire community, in creating somewhat of a self-sustaining ecosystem for good. I truly believe that crypto can enable us to do this. Not just from the perspective of funding artists, and then having these artists then give back, but also in the aspect of building public goods, open sourced tools in that nature. We had released a project called $BOUNTY where we had created a permissionless auction method, which is different than the auction methods that currently exist right now. You have to have access to Foundation, SuperRare, Nifty Gateway, in order for you to have this type of auction method available to you, but now we've built an open sourced version of that. Completely different curve, not taking from any of the stuff that currently exists. Something that gives a wider variety to the rest of us so that we can also create the same compelling stories. We’ve noticed in this space within crypto that as folks use auctions, there’s a huge narrative element that happens, and we wanted to make sure every artist has a chance to capture that same magic. So it’s stuff like that too that I think is really going to position us as a great example as how you can build social enterprise, how you can build tools for the people, and of course benefit both financially and socially, and of course create that impact that could hopefully last much longer than myself. I want Mint Fund and a lot of the projects I work on hopefully to exist long after I’m gone, that would be amazing. Not because I made it, but just because it’s always growing and innovating as being a force of good. If it gets to a point to where we’ve totally balanced the scales, and we no longer need this level of equity in that, we’re really looking to figure out exactly how people have the level of access they need to things. Then sure, then it may not need to exist anymore. But so long as this battle needs to be fought, I hope it’s around and fighting the good fight.
G: Ameer you’re a visionary, you’re a hero, you’re inspiring. What you’ve done already is monumental. What you’re going to do coming up is going to change the planet. Thank you for everything. Thank you for the time. This has just been an amazing conversation. I really appreciate you.