A new way for refugees to market their art
Questscope is excited to announce one of our newest initiatives—DATA (Data as Truth and Art). DATA is a digital platform for young refugees to market their visual art and to voice their personal testimonies of survival as they transcend the many barriers to becoming entrepreneurs.
The idea first took root when Sam and Jack Powers from our partner organization, Lens on Life, offered photography training for refugee youth in Za’atari refugee camp to gain skills—and make some cash. Curt Rhodes, Questscope’s Founder and Executive Director at the time, jumped on the idea. He had experienced the power of photography as a valuable, portable asset, learned during his time with the Near East Foundation (NEF), which had laid a historical precedent of successfully training Armenian refugees in photography. He saw an opportunity to do much the same with Questscope, and the Photography School at our Za’atari Youth Center took shape.
The program was—and still is!—a success. The refugee youth in Za’atari proved themselves to be talented, quick learners, opening our eyes to wider possibilities. The long-term goal of the Photography School is to alleviate the ‘chain-link-fence effect’—the visible and invisible barriers that prevent young people in Za’atari from advancing, leading to immense frustration. With the Photography School, we work to turn talent into assets that can be marketed and sold. The school revolves around our conviction that refugees are not problems for us to solve, but instead resources for us to invest in so they can build their own solutions.
The Turning Point: There’s an Audience for these Photos
During a fundraiser for Lens on Life, 25 of the best photos from the Photography School in Za’atari were printed, framed, and exhibited for auction for an evening at the Benrubi Gallery in Manhattan. $50,000 was raised at the auction, and 100% of the proceeds were donated back to the school. That event marked the first time that refugee youth became donors to their own refugee youth project.
With this example of revenue potential in mind, Sam and Jack from Lens on Life planned to develop a portfolio for each photographer to showcase his/her work. We knew there was a market for these photos. And we saw it as our job to open even more opportunities and pathways to connect more customers to this art.
That’s when the concept of DATA was born. What if, we thought, we could turn these photos into digital opportunities and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), giving more people around the world easier and cutting-edge access to refugee-produced photos? “Minting” NFTs, or turning pictures into pixels that could be sold as unique, single-owner images in digital markets, opened up another unexpected opportunity to get outside the confines of the chain-link fence. A digital market could be accessed digitally – outside the confines of that fence.
Piloting the DATA Project
So we dove in, designing a prototype. We knew from the beginning that Questscope would have an important role to play in ensuring that the value of the sale was transparently transferred to the rightful recipient—in this case, the photography school for refugee youth. Digital markets can be unstable, as valuation goes up and down, and requires legally defined ways to be accrued, like making a deposit in your bank account. Plus, each digital image has a story behind it: who was the girl or the boy who took the picture? What about their story caused them to take this picture? The story behind each photograph becomes the “provenance” of the image. It’s what makes the NFTs valuable.
In order to preserve the integrity of the image, prevent it from being “stolen,” and to provide the proper channels for accruing the sales, the project was copyrighted as DATA—Data as Truth and Art. Because the digital code is art when you see the image it codes for, and it’s truth when you read the truth story behind that image.
To begin, two NFTs were minted as a pilot and sold for $1,000 each. And we were off and running from there. The next auction of NFTs will be June 23rd. And as we grow and learn, there will be even more opportunities to support young Syrian refugees in showcasing their talent and building a creative, high-value livelihood.
Developing Talent, Building a Life of Freedom
The thing about photography is that it’s portable—once trained, a student can live in Za’atari, Jordan, Syria, or anywhere in the world—and they can still make a living taking photographs. Converting their photographs into NFTs is another way to make that living all the more portable.
It’s not often that people think of the refugee students in the Photography School as budding artists. But we do. These artist graduates of the photography school will have their own curated portfolios to promote their work and generate revenue from the sale of their art as independent photographers. Longer term, we envision even more schools outside of Za’atari popping up in a lot of places where refugees or marginalized youth need a bright pathway forward. We envision these NFTs being purchased around the world, by anyone wanting to invest in their futures—and purchase an incredible work of art. The DATA project fuels that growth, and it makes students’ artwork global.
Want to learn more about DATA? Reach out to Chief Vision Officer Curt Rhodes at [email protected] with questions.
You can view and purchase the NFTs on our page on the OpenSea platform here.