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Glenn Kaino's Pass the Baton

A revolutionary digital art project and blockchain strategy

Published Nov 18, 2021

Pace Gallery and VISIBILITY today announce Pass the Baton, a revolutionary digital art project and blockchain strategy conceived by artist Glenn Kaino and his decade-long collaborator, the iconic Olympian who broke 13 world records before standing in an unforgettable silent protest at the 1968 Olympic Games, Tommie Smith. The project utilizes NFTs to facilitate a generative and enduring crypto-giving structure that aims to rethink the sustainability of philanthropy by directly funding social justice-oriented activists and organizations. Pass the Baton will launch on www.baton.art this December in partnership with UNOPND via Hashed, while a physical hologram of the baton will separately debut with Pace Gallery at Art Basel Miami Beach 2021.

Marc Glimcher, President and CEO of Pace Gallery, says: “Glenn has spent years redefining the scope and purpose of an artist’s studio practice. With Pass the Baton, he is continuing to break new ground. Glenn is helping to define the future of NFTs by placing the NFT within the giving ecosystem of the non-profit world.”

Pass the Baton will introduce digitally rendered baton NFTs inspired by Smith’s coveted sculptural artefact: the baton he used in four record-breaking races, including the legendary 1600-meter relay in 1966 wherein the American team simultaneously broke the 3:00 barrier and the world record. Each of the aesthetically unique batons will bear the names of prominent activists, advocates, and changemakers alongside Smith’s, with each name linking to a respective non-profit organization focused on social justice. Altogether, the project comprises an intergenerational relay-inspired Legacy Team. Smart contracts—agreements written in computer code and embedded in a blockchain where many of the stages of the transaction happen automatically—will ensure that the associated organizations receive ongoing support.

A total of 7,872 batons will be minted—1,968 for each Legacy Team. Some Legacy Team names include Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother and founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation; Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP; actor and activist Jesse Williams, who will represent The Advancement Project; Baron Davis, who has designated the Los Angeles Urban League; and 19 other individuals and organizations.

Jesse Williams says: “The Pass the Baton project is a springboard, celebrating the historic intertwining of social justice movements and new technologies that can propel expressions of freedom forward. When designed with intention, both can dramatically change the world for the better. I’m truly excited to play a role in bringing these forces together alongside this new Legacy Team of legendary changemakers.”

Batons will evolve rarer attributes when different donation milestones are met for the non-profit partners, incentivizing the community to pass the baton and allowing the project to perpetually sponsor the activists and organizations.

Simon Kim, CEO & Managing Partner at Hashed, says: "I am pleased that Hashed is participating in this meaningful project, especially because it demonstrates how NFTs can uniquely deliver a social message and encourage infinite donations. Pass the Baton is sure to inspire others as a primary use case for how to harness NFTs to benefit our society for goodwill."

A portion of the proceeds from Pass the Baton will enable the artist to support the acquisitions of the monumental sculpture Invisible Man (Salute) by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the large-scale installation Bridge by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., helping to secure Smith’s legacy.

Kaino and Smith say: “This project started with a drawing of one of Tommie's world-record races that we gave to President Obama in the Oval Office, and a conversation we had with him about how civil rights is very much an intergenerational, intersectional relay. Pass the Baton is only possible with blockchain technology, and we are using these new tools in ways that we have only dreamed of to create long-running, transparent support systems for all human rights. We hope this project inspires others to take these batons, run with them, and then pass them to the next generation of people fighting for equality.”

About Glenn Kaino and Tommie Smith’s Collaboration

Artist Glenn Kaino has been collaborating with Tommie Smith for nearly a decade, creating objects, drawings, and films inspired by Smith’s stories and their shared desire to instigate progress towards universal human rights. The Pass the Baton project started in the Oval Office: Kaino and Smith were invited into the White House by President Barack Obama towards the end of his second term. Not wanting to arrive empty handed, they made a drawing of Smith running a relay, passing a baton to the final runner. On the back, Smith added the inscription: “I can only imagine the length of passage, but most importantly the baton was not dropped.” Shortly thereafter, President Obama began using that phrase to describe the long journey of change.

The duo’s best-known artworks include Invisible Man (Salute), Bridge, and, most recently, their film With Drawn Arms, which was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2021. A touring museum exhibition of their collaborative work was organized by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and works from their collaboration are currently on view in the recently opened collection exhibition Black American Portraits at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Invisible Man (Salute) is a life-sized monument to Smith’s gesture for human rights and call for unity as a nation. Circling the work, the sculpted aluminum gives way to mirror-polished stainless steel, and the work disappears into its surroundings or, depending on the vantage point, reflects the viewer. It is a monument and void intertwined that allows the viewer to contemplate their own relationship to Smith’s legacy.

Bridge is a 100-foot-long suspension bridge created from 200 casts of Smith’s arm. The installation shifts Smith’s historic salute from an isolated moment of courage into a continuum of activism that literally bridges the past and the present.

Artist Projects — Announcing Glenn Kaino's Pass the Baton, Nov 18, 2021