Interview by T.K. Mills - Images Provided by Polly Dawson and Luca Babini
The Akumal Arts Festival is a celebration of all the best street art can be. This past January, the Festival returned for its 4th edition, the first in-person since the pandemic.
From its inception in 2018, the Festival has always embodied its principles of community, ambition, and hope. Led by resident expat, business owner, and community organizer, Jennifer ‘La Reina’ Smith, the Akumal Arts Festival once again showed the triumph of resolve and vision, as artists from around the world came to Akumal to color its walls.
Third Rail Art is proud to have worked with Smith and her team to help build the Festival, including sponsoring this year’s NFT-4-GOOD program.
Jennifer Ensley Smith
Reflecting on the accomplishments of the fourth year, Smith mused about how things have developed. “The reputation of the festival has grown. It’s special because we aren't doing this to make money.
We’re a 501 registered non-profit that receives money through sponsorships, which goes to all of the events, the library, and our all-year-round social programs. That's one of the things that is such a draw for the artists, because they feel like they are part of the community and their work is benefiting the town, where they can see the change.
We’ve grown so much and it’s wonderful to see the impact it’s had on Akumal.”
CZRPRZ - Cesar Perez
Sponsorships have been key to growing community engagement and international support. “We were so fortunate to be able to partner with Hublot this year.” Smith exclaimed.
“That was the most delightful surprise and exciting partnership that we have had so far. They released a limited-edition Mayan-inspired timepiece and wanted to support a Mayan community.
Jennifer Ensley Smith - Rarigrafix
To support the incredible community the Akumal Arts Festival has fostered, Third Rail Art sponsored an innovative crypto-initiative: NFT-4-GOOD.
The program featured over 18 murals from this year’s rendition, which were photographed, animated, and minted into NFTs on the Polygon blockchain. 85% of the proceeds are donated to the Akumal Cultural Foundation.
Additionally, 10% of secondary market sales go directly to artists royalties. Those that are still available are up for public viewing in Third Rail Art’s gallery in the Decentraland metaverse.
One of the muralists in the festival and the NFT-4-GOOD program, Konstance Patton, shared her thoughts: “It’s a great way as an artist to share your work in different ways. Street art is amazing because it allows you to reach people directly, and with NFTs it enables you to reach an even bigger audience.
The power of this new media allows art to be accessed around the world, directly supporting artists and this wonderful magical town, Akumal.”
For a few of the artists in the roster, including Konstance Patton, the NFT-4-GOOD drop is their first blockchain release. Third Rail Art’s Marketing Director Georgia Andre worked to onboard the festival’s artists into the program, connecting creatives from around the world.
Utilizing web3 technology, the NFTs have helped raise funds that directly support the Akumal community through the Akumal Cultural Foundation. Building on this momentum, the NFT-4-GOOD program worked as a force multiplier in building awareness around the festival and community, as the story was picked up by various crypto outlets such as NFTNow and White Hot Magazine.
Most recently Third Rail Art was featured in a Metatrip experience in which over 50 international participants registered to tour the exhibition in the Decentraland gallery.
Environmentalism has been a core value of both Third Rail Art and the Akumal Art Festival, with eco-friendly murals a consistent theme across the town. For Jennifer Smith, keeping the town clean and safe has always been part of her mission.
When asked about her future ambitions, Smith remained optimistic despite the uncertainty the past two years have brought.
“Every year, we always say it’s the best festival ever. And I know next year it’s going to be even more magical and more special. The attention that we’re getting in Akumal, the fact that we have painted over 500 murals in the past 4 years - Akumal is a very tiny town. In terms of square footage, nowhere else has the amount of murals that we have.” She continued, “I’ve often said, my goal is to make Akumal the most painted pueblo on Earth. Next year is Year 5. It’s going to be a big one. I can’t even imagine what’s gonna come, but I know it’s going to be spectacular.”
Reflecting on the incredible growth, the Festival Director shared her closing thoughts; “It's like everything about the festival, it’s this organic growth of how things evolve.
No matter what challenge we are faced with, we overcome it and something beautiful grows from it. That always is our theme and then that’s just a very organic nature of the festival and the Akumal Cultural Foundation.”
All text and images usage rights reserved - copyright @ThirdRailArt and credited artists.