Drue Kataoka’s art has made it to collections in 30 countries — and even the International Space Station. Now the artist, activist and current face of Clubhouse’s app icon is releasing her first NFT to support Asian American causes. The auction will begin on digital art marketplace Nifty Gateway at 1:30 p.m. EST, May 13, along with a launch party on Clubhouse, and run for 24 hours. Nifty Gateway is waiving its auction fees, and all proceeds will go to the Catalyst Fund for Justice (CFJ), the grant-making arm of Stand with Asian Americans, a coalition of business leaders and activists partnered with the Asian Pacific Fund.
Kataoka is known for commissioned artworks like mirror-polished steel sculptures and art that uses virtual reality, EEG and mobile technology. One of her pieces, “Up!,” created with Sumi-e ink on mounted rice paper, was part of the first zero-gravity art exhibit at the International Space Station. She is also an activist and organizer, and has raised a total of almost $300,000 through Clubhouse for #StopAsianHate, #Clubhouse4India and #24HoursofLove for The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the nonprofit started in 1968 by Coretta Scott King.
Called “In the Club: #StopAsianHate,” Kataoka’s NFT was inspired by activist communities on Clubhouse, where Kataoka leads the Art Club, one of the app’s biggest art groups with 102,000 followers.
“I’ve been passionate about leveraging Clubhouse as a medium for social change,” Kataoka said. For this project, “we want to fire on all cylinders, not just only philanthropy or not just only art, but both of those at the highest level to really serve a goal and create the most impact that we possibly can for the Asian American community.”
Kataoka is the founder and chief executive officer of Drue Kataoka Studios, which creates pieces that bring together influences from Zen Buddhism, her training in Sumi-e ink painting and Silicon Valley. Instead of art school, Kataoka went to Stanford University because she wanted to learn about tech, like virtual and augmented reality, how to code and business fundamentals.
“My mantra for the past 20 years has been that art is technology and technology is art,” she told TechCrunch.
For her “genesis drop,” or first NFT release, Kataoka wanted “to be very thoughtful about the first project I did, and I’m excited that it will be this one. I’ve been watching the space very carefully and I am very bullish on crypto and NFTs. I know there’s a lot of volatility and many things that will fall away and not stand the test of time, but ultimately as a mechanism for creativity and so many important things, this will be the way of the future.”
— Drue Kataoka 🌎 (@DrueKataoka) May 12, 2021
Eric Kim, co-chair of Stand with Asian Americans’ Catalyst Fund for Justice, said “the fact that Drue is willing to donate 100% of the proceeds to go towards the AAPI community is really, really meaningful. I think it’s also a beautiful expression of blockchain technology.”
Kim, who is also co-founder and managing partner of venture firm Goodwater Capital, added, “I’ve been searching for the best product market fit of the blockchain and through this project — digital art being captured, codified, securitized in non-fungible tokens, and then being utilized for the community, launched on Clubhouse even, and auctioned through a platform like Nifty Gateway — it is one of the best applications of blockchain I’ve ever seen and an amazing coordination of multiple consumer tech platforms.”
About one-minute long, “In the Club: #StopAsianHate” features an image of a Clubhouse room superimposed over a gold-colored background. User photos have been removed and a series of shifting shapes, sculpted by Kataoka in virtual reality, can be seen through the remaining spaces. At the same time, chanting from a recent street protest is played, overlaid on a recording of Kataoka’s own heartbeat. At the end, the sounds fade into wind, symbolizing air, or qi, chi, ki or prana, a vital force in many Asian cultures.
“It’s a tribute to all of the activists and community members who have really put a lot of belief and faith into this movement and who were speaking out about these issues very early on. One of the things that I feel is disturbing is that mainstream media has either turned a blind eye or sugarcoated a lot of the hate crimes going on in our community and a lot of big issues for the Asian American community,” said Kataoka. “With Clubhouse, it’s completely unfiltered and uncensored, and very early on, last year in 2020, I was hosting and listening to those conversations. We were having serious conversations that really started to take off and gather momentum synergistically with Twitter, that some of the mainstream news outlets were not interested in at the time.”
Kim said the Catalyst Fund for Justice will use a data-driven approach to finding grant recipients. Initially, it will focus on reducing hate crimes and supporting victims; workplace discrimination; the lack of Asian American representation in politics; and supporting underfunded nonprofits. Some goals include introducing more Asian American history into educational curriculums, understanding how workplace bias prevents more Asian Americans from being promoted into leadership roles and increasing the number of Asian Americans in civic organizations.
After the Atlanta shootings, Kim began working with venture capitalists, including his co-founder at Goodwater Chi-Hua Chien, GGV managing partner Hans Tung and Lightspeed Venture partner Jeremy Liew, raising $5 million from a collective of leading VCs to donate to AAPI organizations.
“Coming out of that heightened awareness and activation, business leaders, entrepreneurs and investors started thinking, how can we do this more systematically and apply our professional skill sets to this movement,” Kim said.
Stand with Asian Americans was the result of these types of discussions, and at the end of March, the coalition outlined its mission in a full-page Wall Street Journal ad co-signed by business and political leaders including Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Wang, Stitch Fix co-founder and CEO Katrina Lake and former governor of Washington and United States Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. Stand with Asian Americans is partnered with the Asian Pacific Fund, one of the Bay Area’s most tenured AAPI nonprofits, and launched the Catalyst Fund for Justice as its grant-making arm to harness the power of what is now nearly 8,000 signatories and over 100 dedicated volunteers.
In a statement, Asian Pacific Fund president and executive director Audrey Yamamoto said, “Drue Kataoka’s generous donation of her Genesis NFT drop means the world to the AAPI community as we continue to live in fear of violence and hate every time we leave our homes. The Catalyst Fund for Justice will tap into new sources of funding and use a data-driven approach to make grants that truly move the needle on addressing the greatest injustices faced by our AAPI community.”