A conversation with Living Opera co-founder Christos A. Makridis (Part 1 of 2)

Oct 26, 2022

The economist and technologist talks to Michael E. Hartmann about blockchain technology, decentralized autonomous organizations, and what the nonprofit Living Arts DAO might be able to do for arts philanthropy.

Christos A. Makridis is co-founder and chief technology officer of Living Opera, which is working to bring the benefits of blockchain technologies to classical music. He wrote last month about Living Opera for an interesting City Journal article, “Transforming Arts Philanthropy.” The piece describes how blockchain can cut out institutional middlemen and directly connect philanthropists and artists, including through decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs). The Living Opera co-founders are now creating the Living Arts DAO.

“DAOs, like other blockchain technologies, cannot replace good judgment, the right people, and good ideas. But they have the potential to promote better governance, return on investment, and flourishing in the arts profession by increasing transparency and accountability,” according to Makridis in the article. “My hope is that the Living Arts DAO functions as an early pilot for a new approach within the world of arts philanthropy that leads to transformational outcomes for artists, philanthropists, and society at large.”

The creative, ambitiously forward-looking, and entrepreneurial Makridis was kind enough to join me for a conversation last week. The just more than 15-minute video below is the first of two parts of our discussion; the second is here. In the first part, we talk about blockchain technology, DAOs, and what the nonprofit Living Arts DAO might be able to do for arts philanthropy.

Makridis and Hartmann

“We believe that classical music is beautiful and that it can reach a wider audience,” Makridis tells me, but  “the reality is that there has been a lot of sluggishness with the adoption of technology within classical music.” To more widely distribute classical music and transform the business for remunerating artists, as fully described in a Living Opera white paper, Living Opera produces non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and live and digital concerts for interested fine-arts consumers, and it’s building an app that will allow users to create their own NFT art with sound. The startup is unique because of not only the ideas, but also the team: Makridis works with two leading opera singers, Soula Parassidis and Norman Reinhardt.

For artists, Living Opera provides education about technology and how to manage the changing and challenging arts talent market. Reinahrdt had gone through performance anxiety several years ago, so he and Parassidis began talking about the career and sharing best practices. In addition to the educational materials and the arts-entrepreneurship digital certificate that they’re building, Living Opera is launching the Living Arts DAO as a decentralized grantmaking platform to provide micro-grants to artists.

“Magic Mozart is a generative art collection centered around The Magic Flute,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s last composition, Makridis said. Parassidis had discovered that Mozart created the first, or at least one of the first, generative-art games using dice back in 1787.

“The Living Arts DAO is kind of the back end” and the digital art and music in Magic Mozart is the front. “It’s the cool crypto side” that fascinates many people in the web3 community, Makridis explains.

[W]e’re forming a nonprofit, and the aim is to create a micro-grant community where an artist [who] maybe needs $500, $1,000, $2,000 … can make a proposal after they’ve gone through our arts-entrepreneurship curricula. We realized we don’t just want to put a bunch of money out there and let people kind of run wild. We want to educate people around the curriculum that we have created.

The Living Arts DAO’s headquarters will be in Tennessee, which last April joined Wyoming in explicitly statutorily allowing DAOs to become limited-liability companies (LLCs), including nonprofit ones.

Those who complete the Living Opera curriculum get a digital credential and become eligible to create a proposal to the DAO. “People that are micro-philanthropists” in the DAO “have skin in the game where they get to influence the composition of projects,” as Makridis tells it—an opportunity that does not exist in existing crowdfunding platforms.

With the DAO, “the artist and the philanthropist kind of get to journey together,” he notes. As a giver, “you have more say over what happens, versus you just put money into a symphony and then you assume that it’s going to be used really well.” People who “want to support their local symphony, that’s important, that’s good. But this provides another outlet, particularly for those individuals that feel like the arts and cultural sectors, haven’t really been living up to their full potential.”

DAOs can be collaborative and community-building, participatory and partnership-based. In the conversation’s second part, Makridis talks about the potential implications of DAOs for philanthropy in contexts beyond the arts, including higher education, and whether they will complement or substitute for the many intermediaries in the existing grantmaking structure.