Exclusive: Optimism Foundation Reveals “We Love The Art” Contest Winners

On Mar. 11, the Optimism Foundation’s We Love The Art contest, which launched in November 2023 and closed for entries on January 8, 2024, announced its top winners in categories including AI art, generative art, and music.

After reviewing the over seven thousand entries—including creators minting their work as NFTs for the first time—the contest’s panel of judges has awarded top prizes of 50,000 $OP each to eight winners. Additionally, smaller prizes have gone out to dozens of other winners—with a total prize pool of over $3.6 million.

Here are the top winners in each category:

1/1s: Shavonne Wong, Mitchell F. Chan

Music: The Park, Aly x Bloody White

AI: Pegasus, Cam Murdoch

Generative: 0xfff, Sam Hains

The contest—whose panel of judges included FaithLove, pplpleasr, money, Cozomo de’ Medici, and our very own Matt Medved —highlighted the benefits of the low-gas members of what Optimism calls the Superchain: Optimism’s own mainnet, Zora, and Base.

A celebratory livestream will take place at 8 pm UTC on Monday, Mar. 11.

nft now caught up with Binji Pande and Emmanuel Aremu, as well as six of the eight top prizewinners, for exclusive interviews.


Breaking New Ground

Although the NFT space is no stranger to hyped drops and contests, We Love The Art has broken new ground by inviting artists onto low-gas chains, according to Binji Pande, NFT Lead at OP Labs.

“The fact of the matter is that L2s and NFTs haven’t really been a thing yet. Predominantly, most art has been on L1. It’s very expensive, of course. A lot of artists have felt like they don’t have a chance, especially in the bear market, to start afresh, start new. It’s like, you can’t be an emerging artist because it’s just kind of ossified in terms of talent pool,” Pande told nft now in a phone interview.

“A contest is an easier thing to offer to someone who’s new to the space in general; how can we use that as a catapult/springboard for bringing in emerging artists on-chain?”

Binji Pande

As liquidity, largely focused on DeFi, returned to Ethereum at the beginning of 2024, gas fees on mainnet continued to rise, dissuading artists and affecting the entire space—and Pande saw an opportunity. “We were like, ‘Okay, how can Optimism and a Superchain, broadly—so Base, Zora, and Optimism together—help tackle this problem?’ There’s multiple ways that you can go about it. You could do an incentive program, or you could do a bunch of different kinds of smaller things. Or you could do something that’s unique, that’s never been done before, in a way that can bring new artists to this field completely, like entirely—which is running art contests,” he said.

Pande and team designed the contest to encourage a new influx of artists to look towards the Superchain for their mints. “If you look at the way the branding, etc., for We Love The Art was done, it’s a globally accessible art contest—a call to action to any artists in the world, essentially, to think, ‘Oh, I can actually apply to this crypto thing. I need to make this NFT and put my art in, and I can potentially win.’ How can we actually create new pools of talent within the space by creating a competition? That’s actually very normal, right? A contest is an easier thing to offer to someone who’s new to the space in general; how can we use that as a catapult/springboard for bringing in emerging artists on-chain?” he told us.

Alongside the understanding that art contests are a familiar concept to creators across the world, the Superchain’s low gas fees help encourage artists to participate. “On the tech side, Optimism, Base and Zora are obviously way cheaper, much faster. Put together, that is just a great onboarding mechanic; it’s really difficult to onboard an artist onto L1 directly when artists on Ethereum have paid $300 gas fees—and it’s their first time ever minting. Things like that are a big motivator,” he said.


Retroactive Public Goods Funding

To Pande, We Love The Art is right in line with one of the Optimism community’s most distinctive practices: retroactive grants awarded to people who meaningfully contribute to the Superchain’s ecosystem without the guarantee of compensation.

“Optimism’s entire ethos has been about retroactively funding public goods: how can we create a world where public goods are profitable? To break that down: what is the public good? When I walk out in my city, and I see a clean street, I see a park, I see art around, I see someone playing music on the street, those are all public goods. That’s what makes the city nice to live in, makes the city feel like home,” he said.

In crypto, this structure is often absent, according to Pande. “What actually happens in crypto—and in the world, in most cases—is that the people who do that never get paid. There’s no income stream for people who build public goods. There’s no income stream in crypto for writers who are doing things on their own. There’s no income stream for people who are translating, for people who are hopping on Discord and helping out, for people who make open-source tooling, YouTube videos, and things like that. There’s just not really a direct path to monetization there for an industry that’s made like $2 trillion in market cap,” he said.

“What actually happens in crypto—and in the world, in most cases—is that the people who do that never get paid. There’s no income stream for people who build public goods.”

binji pande

Pande laid out Optimism’s response for us. “Our ethos is: how can we create a world where we retroactively fund those people, and create a place where when you do something that benefits everybody, you can get retroactively rewarded for it? We wanted to bring this into the fray and audit art as a public good as such: how do we create an initiative so that new and current artists feel like, ‘Okay, this is a place that’s not trying to extract from me,’” he continued.

In Web3, partners often collaborate for a share of the mint’s proceeds, but the contest has taken nothing from any of the winners. “Optimism isn’t trying to take token mints from the winners. That’s not a factor in judging—we’re not here to take a percentage of anyone’s work! [Winners] own their work entirely. We just wanted to create a fun campaign with our first foot in the door within this world and try to create a very positive-sum atmosphere where we let new artists get discovered. Plus, we also kind of push artists into understanding the Optimism vision: we need to end financial martyrdom for people who do the right thing and benefit an entire collective,” said Pande.


Putting It Into Practice

Asked how this audacious experiment had performed in practice, Emmanuel Aremu, Optimism’s Ecosystem Growth Marketing Manager, explained that even though the team is still processing the contest’s quantitative data, it looks like it brought quite a few new people into the space.

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“Just at a very anecdotal level, we saw artists who are doing their first mints using our partners’ technology: using sound.xyz, doing mints on Zora, trying OpenSea for the very first time,” Aremu told us. “Once word got out there about the size of the prizes available and about the judges involved, we also had a lot of artists wheeling off and using the contest as their first experiment in minting. We saw a lot of evidence of this in the submissions and also with people sharing publicly. When the submission deadline day happened in January, many were like, ‘Hey, I was curious about the space, but this contest was the impetus and the energy that drove me to make my very first mint,’” he explained.

“Once word got out there about the size of the prizes available and about the judges involved, we also had a lot of artists wheeling off and using the contest as their first experiment in minting.”

Emmanuel Aremu

Now that the contest has drawn to a close, it will be intriguing to see whether the cohort of newly onboarded artists sticks with Web3. For Pande, a few distinctive features of Optimism are likely to encourage artists to stick around. Along with opportunities for retroactive public goods funding—for example, awardees for the most recent round of proposals received 30 million $OP in total—Pande hopes that the prospect of decentralized governance of Optimism tempts artists to stick around.

“For so long, artists have been told what to do. They’ve been told to fit into this mold, fit into this criteria, change their art so it can be commercialized, and change this art so they can monetize it. Optimism wants to listen—its job is to become an enablement engine. We’re a collective that anyone can join; we’re building an internet used by everyone, owned by no one, and contributed to by anyone who wants to,” he said.


Nuts and Bolts of Governance

Many DAO proposals are dry and technical, but Optimism encourages all voices in governance—even if they’re better artists than technical experts. “Through Optimism governance, people can come into this world, even if they’ve not been a part of it yet, become a delegate, and help direct our Treasury from the governance side into this field in which they’re specialized. Optimism governance has the mission proposal request system, where it opens up the floor to anybody—even if you’ve never been a part of the community—to write a mission proposal request on what they believe the collective and crypto need to find more of,” said Pande.

“Optimism is not here to tell artists what to do—we want to listen to them and help them be able to be the creative voice in governance, helping push where the Treasury goes within their world, bringing it into being as personal as possible.”

binji pande

He walked us through the Optimism governance process, which is open to anyone—not just token holders and ecosystem participants. “For example, an artist or collective can go in and say, ‘I believe that we need to have increased events, and I believe that needs a budget of X $OP. I think these are the criteria that anyone who applies to fulfill that mission should accomplish.’ From there, it goes to a governance vote, yes or no. If the community votes yes, a pool of funds has now opened up for anybody to apply and fulfill that mission. Optimism is not here to tell artists what to do—we want to listen to them and help them be able to be the creative voice in governance, helping push where the Treasury goes within their world, bringing it into being as personal as possible,” he said.

According to Pande, Optimism also has a team of people ready to help artists grow, supporting them to get media coverage and connecting them to other art initiatives—like those that Superchain partners Base and Zora offer.

Even though typical DAO governance can be dry, with occasional moments of drama, artists are already engaging with Optimism’s decision-making process—which is, like the Congress, bicameral, with a meritocratic Citizens’ House wielding voting power comparable to that of $OP token holders.

“It’s been really exciting, honestly—we have had a team actually do the mission proposal thing to free up a budget of 15,000 $OP towards organizing events to show our artists’ work within galleries, following We Love The Art. That was amazing to see—it was just that happened very organically,” he told us.


The Contest Mechanics

All well and good for these lofty ambitions—but what about the mechanics of the contest? The first thing needed was to select the judges—and a rubric for evaluating thousands of wildly distinctive pieces of art. Selecting judges from the world of creatives, collectors, and leadership in the world of crypto, with a mind towards global diversity, the Optimism team needed to add more judges as the entries poured in. Judging took multiple rounds, and the judging period was extended to accommodate the upsurge in interest: the contest blog has more about the judges and rubrics.

“It’s the magnitude and the distribution and the openness and the global newness of the technology to do something very targeted, that helps new people get into the space, to feel like, ‘oh, crypto is not all about maintaining and making money. It’s about celebrating each other.’”

Emmanuel Aremu

Optimism will let the learnings from the contest inform future competitions, which could expand in scope by incorporating blockchain writers and partnering with on-chain publishing platforms like Mirror, according to Pande.

We were curious to learn if anything about the contest was surprising to the team. Aremu found the overall high quality of submissions a delightful surprise.

“You saw them start really slowly, and then, week on week, the quality just kept ramping up, and people were tagging us to say, ‘hey, here’s my submission’—people going through exactly how they put an entry together,” Aremu told us. “I think there’s just surprise all around at just how much talent exists in crypto and how much talent crypto can pull in when it actually brings together its force. It’s the magnitude and the distribution and the openness and the global newness of the technology to do something very targeted that helps new people get into the space and feel like, ‘Oh, crypto is not all about maintaining and making money. It’s about celebrating each other,’” he said.

Artists primarily spread the word about the contest themselves—here’s just one of many mega threads where artists shared their entries on X—and community members translated the contest’s instructional videos and texts into many different languages.


Hearing From The Winners

In advance of our knowing who the top eight contest winners were, nft now had the chance to send a set of questions by email over the weekend. We reached the winners at a fascinating moment: each had learned that they’d won but couldn’t yet share the news publicly. Their excitement in the replies is palpable.

Mitchell F. Chan

Mitchell F. Chan, a winner in the 1/1 category, submitted “Web3 Buddha”—a mini-game, playable in its page on OpenSea. 

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The game, in which a circle of meditating Buddhas bids on NFTs displayed on computers in the middle of the circle, with a barbershop version of “Hello, My Baby” playing in the background, is as fun as it is surreal.

nft now: How did you hear about the We Love The Art contest?

Mitchell F Chan: Oh, it seemed as though everyone had heard about it. It was definitely one of those things going around.

Tell us a bit about your creation—was it something new or something you had made but were waiting for the right moment to share?

I created this artwork specifically for the competition. I have been making games as artworks and selling them as NFTs for a while now. I believe that it’s the most exciting form to be working in right now. For a mostly conceptual artist, this form allows for an incredible depth of communication and storytelling. For a technical artist, it’s the form which best leverages all the different affordances of digital media and demands the most from a digital artist’s skill set. But it comes with a lot of challenges!

One of the challenges is that these pieces seem to be quite illegible to a certain set of collectors who extol innovation but prefer the comfort of .PNG files. Another challenge is that it takes me about a year to make one of these artworks—a production pace ill-suited for the NFT market. So, for the competition, I wanted to create a piece which distilled much of what I was doing—the technical innovation, the emphasis on interactivity, the unique aesthetics, and the focused commentary—into an artwork that was a little more legible as a 1/1 NFT artwork. The criteria for the category were actually well-aligned with the considerations that I was trying to incorporate into my art practice.

What was your initial reaction when you heard you were selected?

I was quite shocked, to be honest! I do have a lot of confidence in my art and its qualities, but still, a lot has to go right to win a competition like this, with so many applicants.

As the bull market heats up, meme tokens are in the foreground, and art is often overlooked. What can we do as a community to make sure our amazing creators like yourself are getting the visibility needed to make great sales and benefit from abundance as liquidity flows back into the space?

Culture is not a collection of artifacts which spring forth fully formed from the minds of touched-by-god geniuses and immediately illuminate and enlighten all who encounter them. That’s a very simplistic myth. Culture is a shared story that is built by a broad coalition of different roles. Artists are at the center of it, yes, but writers, curators, and other arts professionals.

As an example: long before I was a good artist, I was a very bad artist. I became a good artist because I was able to learn my skills at grassroots-level artist-run centers, which are staffed by people who make something like $35,000 per year. In the NFT world, these spaces do not exist because this ecosystem has not figured out how to invest in arts administrators and educators that build value slowly and indirectly. I became a good artist because I read some books and essays that were written by very smart writers who were able to ignite some spark of connection in my brain. In the NFT world, these writers are very, very, very hard to find because this ecosystem has not figured out how to invest in writers and critics that build value slowly and indirectly.

“I became a good artist because I read some books and essays that were written by very smart writers who were able to ignite some spark of connection in my brain. In the NFT world, these writers are very, very, very hard to find because this ecosystem has not figured out how to invest in writers and critics.”

mitchell f chan

I became a good interactive artist because curators created opportunities where I could test out ideas on progressively bigger stages. In the NFT world, these curators are very, very hard to find because this ecosystem has not figured out how to invest in curators and cultural laborers who build value slowly and indirectly. 

When I entered, I made a promise to myself that if I won, I would pay half the money forward to the types of cultural laborers who are *essential* to a resilient, healthy arts ecosystem.

So when you ask, “What can we do as a community to give creators visibility,” the answer is actually to take a more holistic approach. There’s actually an entire sector of really smart, talented people who do this, and I will try to support them as best I can.


Shavonne Wong

Shavonne Wong, a 3D virtual model creator, also won in the 1/1 category. Her entry, “Whirlwind of the Waking Dream,” is a dazzling animation of a woman passing through fantastical dream scenarios as quickly as one might change the TV channel.

nft now: How did you hear about the We Love The Art contest?

Shavonne Wong: Found out about it on Twitter and some group chats. People seemed excited about it, so I figured, why not give it a shot?

Tell us a bit about your creation—was it something new or something you had made but were waiting for the right moment to share?

“Whirlwind of the Waking Dream” is a brand new piece about the dizzying speed of today’s world, especially as we get closer towards a more digital future. This piece was a challenge I set for myself; it was an idea that sat with me for a while, nagging at the back of my mind. It felt daunting, partly because it meant venturing into techniques I hadn’t learned yet. This contest was just the nudge I needed to finally bring this vision to life. It’s my take on trying to keep up in a world that never stops moving.

What was your initial reaction when you heard you were selected?

Honestly? I thought it was a scam when I first saw the email. But then, seeing the official tweet confirming the emails had gone out turned that skepticism into excitement. Knowing the caliber of artists I was up against makes this recognition all the more surreal. It’s a humbling validation that I’m on the right path.

Any exciting plans for your prize?

There’s a big project I’ve been plotting for this year. I was eyeing grants to kickstart it, and while I’ll still pursue those, this prize means I can forge ahead with less financial stress hanging over the project.

As the bull market heats up, meme tokens are in the foreground, and art is often overlooked. What can we do as a community to make sure our amazing creators like yourself are getting the visibility needed to make great sales and benefit from abundance as liquidity flows back into the space?

We’ve got to keep innovating and pushing ahead, making our corner of the world so vibrant and undeniable that more people, collectors included, want in. It’s less about competing with the meme token hype and more about continuing to carve out a space where art thrives on its own terms.


Sam Hains

A winner in the generative category, Sam Hains minted “Bullet Heaven [YOKO],” a 326-token, generative series with the vibe of old-school arcade games, featuring chiptune soundtracks and a chaos of letters, shapes, and pixels that you can affect by tapping the screen. 

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nft now: How did you hear about the We Love The Art contest?

Sam Hains: I heard about it through friends in the NFT community.

Tell us a bit about your creation—was it something new or something you had made but were waiting for the right moment to share?

The project was inspired by Danmaku/Bullet Hell (which translates to “Bullet Curtain”) arcade games characterized by complex patterns of bullets that fill the screen.

I had the idea for a few years. I became obsessed with Bullet Hell arcade games during the pandemic, though I never really had the patience to get good at them. I was drawn in by the extreme difficulty of these games and the overwhelming, maximalist visual aesthetic. The idea is that the gamer must train so extensively, feeding the arcade machine with all of their time and money.  This idea of a toxic, psychologically abusive relationship between gamer and machine. That user interfaces can be weaponized in a way, and send people into a dark trance state. Arcade machines, casinos, and slot machines all have this quality, and I’m fascinated by the idea that the human experience of transcendence can be designed and programmed in such a way.

I was also interested in drawing out the idea that bullet hell games are generative art. Or that generative art exists everywhere. It’s a bit like Corey Archangel’s “Super Mario Clouds,” where if you take away everything except the bullets, you can see the system in its most perverse and psychedelic form.

What was your initial reaction when you heard you were selected?

Hains: Shocked, shaken. I only just woke up.

Any exciting plans for your prize?

I am splitting some of it with my collaborator, Wretched Worm, who designed the UI,  the backgrounds, and the logo. I also want to give a bonus to my composer, Manapool. I want to give some away to more deserving artists than me. But I only just found this out, so I will need more time to think about it.


0xfff

0xfff, winning in the Generative category, used the blockchain itself as part of their creation. They dropped “YOU ARE HERE,” a conceptual collection whose individual tokens can be bridged between a set of EVM-compatible blockchains—with each bridge creating a visual trace on the token’s artwork.

nft now: How did you hear about the We Love The Art contest?

0xfff: It hadn’t been on my radar until the deadline extension was announced, which I think I saw on Twitter directly. By then, I was already deep in the execution of my piece, “YOU ARE HERE,” but I had planned to release it a few weeks after the deadline. So the WLTA was a catalyst and I hunkered down in the week after the new year. With the help of @0xmons, I was able to push it out before the deadline.

Tell us a bit about your creation—was it something new or something you had made but were waiting for the right moment to share?

Yes. The idea was something I had been playing with for a while. But as I mentioned previously, the WLTA contest was the catalyst that really made me push it out. In general I think WLTA was responsible for a lot of artists releasing work they would have otherwise not or not as soon.

What was your initial reaction when you heard you were selected?

It’s still very surreal. Joy, gratitude, but also determination. I’m saying this because the timing is absolutely perfect. I had been working on going full-time for a while, and seeing the responses I got to “YOU ARE HERE” at launch led me to wind down all my other engagements. By June, I’m officially fully invested in making art for the world computer. This prize allows me to throw myself fully into it, and I intend to make the absolute best of it. 

Any exciting plans for your prize?

Apart from allowing me to radically experiment, of course I intend to put it to good use and support the art that I want to see more of. I will be helping organize a show this year, which I also am able to support financially now to get it off the ground.

As the bull market heats up, meme tokens are in the foreground, and art is often overlooked. What can we do as a community to make sure our amazing creators like yourself are getting the visibility needed to make great sales and benefit from abundance as liquidity flows back into the space?

Personally, I’d like to see less “drops” and more shows. No matter if virtual or physical. Organizing and curating shows and then fostering conversation/discourse around that is probably one of the most effective means of lifting up artists.

Someone recently posted something along the lines of: “As a collector, your job starts after collecting a piece,” and I agree. The number one thing we can do for creators who are at this moment working with this medium is to move away from all the “firsts” and questions “historical significance” and focus on the art that is being made now. Support artists in making weird, daring art. Help them push the boundaries and please whatever you do, never ask an artist for utility.


Cam Murdoch

A winner in the AI category, Cam Murdoch entered “Surf Noir Trailer 001,” a 90-second animation about a boy in an alternate world in which humanity lives on a scattering of islands, including the titular Surf Noir. He’s never visited the other islands—but one day, he promises to himself, he will set sail.

nft now: How did you hear about the We Love The Art contest?

Cam Murdoch: The contest link was being shared around in an artist group chat that I’m in. Actually, this same chat, that was started by my friend Jamee Cornelia, has been instrumental in giving me a sense of community with fellow artists in Web3.

Tell us a bit about your creation—was it something new or something you had made but were waiting for the right moment to share?

Surf Noir is a world that I’ve been ideating since 2019, along with the theme of Future Surf. I’d been experimenting with AI tools for about two years, creating the style and lore of this world. At the time the contest was announced, I was already working on this trailer to announce my partnership with p00ls.io and the creation of my $SHELLZ token. When I found out about the contest and the amount of time I had, I thought about making something different, but my friend Charm Taylor said, “If you think long, you think wrong,” which encouraged me to lean into the divine timing of what I was already making.

What was your initial reaction when you heard you were selected?

It really hasn’t sunk in completely. I’m not as surprised or as emotional as I thought I might be, but I just don’t think it’s hit me yet. I just know that my life is changed by this, and I have a massive opportunity to do so many things that I’ve always wanted to do for my art and, for my family, and for my community.

Any exciting plans for your prize?

In full transparency, I’ve been struggling with houselessness since the Summer of 2022. In the past six months, I turned those lemons into digital nomad lemonade. Owning a home is top of mind for sure. Additionally, I’m just ready to get to work on some of these ideas that have been stalled for lack of funding.

As the bull market heats up, meme tokens are in the foreground, and art is often overlooked. What can we do as a community to make sure our amazing creators like yourself are getting the visibility needed to make great sales and benefit from abundance as liquidity flows back into the space?

This contest was a great start. But I think that the entire space owes artists a seat at the table this year because we have so much to offer in addition to art. The crypto space is only cool because artists made it cool. I think there are many opportunities for companies in the space that have nothing to do with art, to regularly collaborate with artists as creative directors, UI/UX designers, branding consultants, product design consultants, merch designers, etc. It would be great to see the innate creative talent here employed by more bounties. For example, my hometown is building a giant bridge and pouring billions of dollars into it—but it took a local artist to tell them that they were missing an opportunity by not working with creatives to make it something pretty and iconic. I think about this all the time when I see crypto products made, oftentimes FOR ARTISTS, where there’s a skipped step in which they don’t bring in enough artists to help make the thing functionally aesthetic.


The Park

Credit: The Park

A winner in the Music category, The Park won with “becky v2,” an eclectic, danceable track created by 14 musicians from Kampala, Uganda, and California’s Los Angeles.

They didn’t reply to our questions directly but sent us the mint’s description, which does a great job of answering them and is shared below in full.

“becky v2” is the park + shwento. fridays at the park goes from los angeles, ca, to kampala uganda, and back to los angeles ⌐◨-◨ collective creation across nations, states, continents, a first for us all. off and on-chain collaboration and coordination, world wide ⌐Ⓗ-Ⓕ happy friday

The Park exists to…

Foster and support music and arts as public goods through an on-chain approach

Foster collaboration within the music community

Showcase on-chain processes and technologies

Inspire and motivate a new wave of artists to engage with on-chain platforms

Fridays at The Park is an exploration in letting the natural flow of creativity guide our content. We believe that the beauty of this project lies in its spontaneity and the organic fusion of ideas from diverse backgrounds. Never would we have thought we’d be creating with a team of new friends in Kampala, Uganda. Huge Shouts out to Ethereum, to Base, to Optimism, to ZORA.

The post Exclusive: Optimism Foundation Reveals “We Love The Art” Contest Winners appeared first on nft now.



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