e-flux and DeviantArt Lose .ART Bid to Russian Venture Capitalist

by Paddy Johnson and Rea McNamara on August 6, 2015 · 2 comments Newswire


.ART, the widely-contested Top Level Domain bid, was finally settled in a private ICANN auction, with both e-flux and DeviantArt losing out to UK Creative Arts Limited.

The news come as a blow to the two art organizations, who joined forces last year in the hopes of ensuring that the administration of the new .ART Domain would be an authentic Internet address for the arts community. Of the total 10 applicants, e-flux and DeviantArt were the only two who had applied for “community designation”, as there was expressed concern regarding the potential for the domain to be exploited by commercial interests.

Despite a widely distributed online campaign —including e-flux’s letter of endorsement from curators and artists worldwide as well as support from DeviantArt’s 31 million+ users — there had been internal debate in the art world with e-flux running the campaign at all.

When AFC first covered e-flux’s announced intentions in 2012, many of our commenters expressed cynicism regarding the supposed paradigm shift of an art-centric top level domain as well as disdain for ICANN “continuing to print new money out of thin air” with their then-new gTLD program. There was also questions regarding e-flux’s role in, as Orit Gat wrote at the time in Rhizome, “wield[ing] a kind of centralized power that seems incongruous not only with the egalitarian politics advanced through e-flux’s editorial, but also with the concept of the Internet as a shared resource.”

e-flux acknowledged these issues, and promised transparent dialogue via a discussion board unfortunately no longer online. The eventual partnership with DeviantArt also seemed to assuage concerns regarding solely one organization or business running the domain.

But given the expensive costs involved in purchasing domains via ICANN — a $185,000 application fee, and a $25,000 annual renewal — it comes as no surprise that .ART ultimately went to the highest bidder, one with designs on using the domain to make the art market more friendly to investors and their advisors. UK Creative Arts Limited’s parent company is SFERQ, a Moscow-based investment firm run by Ulvi Kasimov, who was recently listed by Forbes as one of the top ten Russian venture capitalists.

UK Creative Arts Limited’s proposal describes serving the following potential customer base: galleries and auction and trading houses, museums, foundations, professional associations, insurance, appraisal, transport and customers and members of the general public interested in art. The proposal says they believe strongly in an inclusive model and want to “implement mechanisms for the democratization and consolidation of the art community through global infrastructure, supported by self-governing elected structures. As such, Creative Ideas intends to enable those involved in the art industry to contribute to the evolution of the .ART gTLD e.g. by advisory councils.”

Whereas e-flux and DeviantArt promised to jointly convene a policy board of artists and art institutions to establish standards for the use of the .ART address, it looks as if UK Creative Arts Limited’s “self-governing elected structures” has little accountability to the public.

So despite the efforts of a two-year grassroots campaign fighting for the domain integrity of .ART, the result may be yet another centralized online entity, catering to collectors and CEOs of companies that cater to collectors. Thus far, neither e-flux nor DeviantArt have issued statements in response to the loss.

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