Iris Nevins founded the company Umba Daima to promote black NFT artists

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In early 2021, Iris Nevins, a longtime art collector, officially dedicated her career to promoting artists.

She originally planned to create an online store for artists to sell their work with her co-founder Omar Desire. But when she learned about NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, in 2020, she decided the technology would be a “much more profound way to help artists.”

“We thought we could do more, make a bigger impact and generate more revenue for the artists, for ourselves, [with NFTs] than trying to sell prints and paintings online,” Nevins, 29, told CNBC Make It.

In February 2021, Nevins and her team founded the NFT studio Umba Daima, which empowers artists and educates people about Web3. Among the many offerings, Umba Daima’s team manages and advises artists, earns a percentage of their sales and helps build online marketplace communities.

Umba Daima also introduced a number of sub-brands that it oversees. The first was Black NFT Art, quickly followed by the NFT Roundtable Podcast and virtual exhibition The Unseen Gallery.

“We found that the artists that were having a lot of success had these really strong communities around them that were promoting or reposting on social media or participating in their drops,” says Nevins. The studio launched Black NFT Art “to create that kind of experience for black artists.”

An example of the success of Umba Daima is Artist Andre Oshea, who managed the company for around four and a half months. His NFT sales were low when he first started working with Umba Daima, but now “Andre Oshea is one of the best black artists in the space,” says Nevins.

In 2021, Umba Daima generated sales of $140,000 across all its brands.

Although this is a milestone, the team is still bootstrapping. Nevins hasn’t paid herself, despite quitting her job to focus on Umba Daima full-time. Most of her team members are essentially volunteers, she says, although she pays them when she can. “We’re a long way from being profitable, but I hope it can happen soon.”

She is thankful for people like Tony Evans, Professor at Pennsylvania State Dickinson Law, and Kyle Hill, Head of Crypto at consulting platform Troika IO, who helped Umba Daima with this. “It’s been really nice, especially as a black founder, to see people giving so much support and believing in me so much,” says Nevins.

“Crypto, blockchain and NFT usage are so important”

work to do

However, the NFT space is still not perfect.

When Nevins started, he noticed a lack of diversity in the industry and saw an opportunity to create a more equitable space for color creators. “There weren’t many black artists, or when they were there, they were really hard to find,” she says. “They haven’t seen black artists making a lot of sales.”

Additionally, many of the leading NFT marketplaces require creators to apply or be invited to list their work. But Nevins says she’s noticed some platforms that don’t accept or invite color artists.

The current application process for many NFT marketplaces is also forcing a culture where only those who are “in” can succeed, Nevins says. “That’s problematic because if you’re not actively building relationships with Black people in the space, how are you going to get Black artists onto the platform?” she says.

Nevins hopes that one day these same NFT marketplaces will change their practices and work more closely with community builders like Black NFT Art.

“The marketplaces all benefit from the work that people like me do,” she says. “It’s disappointing when many of these platforms don’t make an effort to work with us. [They] can do more to work with grassroots organizers.”

What’s next for Umba Daima

Looking ahead, Nevins is excited about the growth of black-owned NFT platforms, including The fountain and disturb art, this year. She’s also excited to see more film, music, and dance NFTs coming to market.

In fact, Umba Daima’s first one-of-one NFT drop is slated for February and will feature work by well-known artists like Shaylin Wallace and Dominik Weiss, among other.

“We want to be able to help all of the artists we work with get their flowers and grow through this process,” she says. “I think most people associate CryptoPunks with NFTs. They didn’t really sit down and look at what regular artists create.”

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