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Candice Houtekier, Toronto-based founder of Art Collision, wants to amplify the voices of women in the metaverse.Handout

Candice Houtekier, the Toronto-based founder and director of digital marketing agency Art Collision, wants to merge art with technology and make Web3 a more inclusive place.

In contrast with Web1 (the early days of the Internet) or Web2 (the rise of social media), Web3 is the latest, most participatory iteration of the Internet, featuring NFTs (non-fungible tokens), cryptocurrencies and the metaverse – a digital space accessed by virtual and augmented reality.

Originally from France, Ms. Houtekier’s creative journey started with video games.

“I was into adventure and RPG [role-playing games] and was excited to try to understand why I liked getting lost when playing,” she says.

Having moved to Canada to complete a master’s degree at l’Université de Montreal with a focus on art history and video games, Ms. Houtekier worked in commercial art galleries in Toronto after graduating. At the same time, she discovered blockchain and began to collect NFTs.

“I wanted to build bridges between the traditional art market and this digital art scene, so I founded Art Collision in July 2019 to help art businesses improve their digital presence,” she says.

Working across Canadian and international markets, Art Collision offers a range of services, from helping organizations exhibit in virtual reality to making crypto payments available and accessible for traditional art e-commerce websites.

“If art galleries sell traditional art, they can still accept cryptocurrency as a payment,” Ms. Houtekier says. “I believe that in the future, a lot of industries are going to adopt this hybrid business model.”

Expanding women’s voices through strategic partnerships is an important part of Ms. Houtekier’s mission. She’s had the opportunity to partner with Meta (formerly Facebook) and has consulted with the Canadian government on the Canadian Digital Adoption Program (CDAP).

“We have the potential to help the traditional art market create a bridge between the traditional world and the digital world, because I believe that anyone from anywhere in the world can potentially do business in virtual environments,” says Ms. Houtekier.

Why gender diversity matters in Web3

Caroline Issa, the Montreal-born and London, UK-based CEO and fashion director of Tank Magazine and Because London, recently created a virtual reality platform for Because London that included curated digital fashion, beauty and art stories.

“The Metaverse provides so much opportunity to supercharge creativity, fantasy, community and connectivity, essentially opening up luxury fashion for anyone in the world to access if you have an internet connection,” she says.

However, regulations and safeguards have yet to be standardized in the metaverse. Ms. Issa recalls an uncomfortable incident while attending Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week, where her team avatar was sexually harassed by an anonymous person online. This experience is why transparency, protection and guidelines are necessary for any virtual space, Ms. Issa says.

“It will be a work-in-progress for platforms and the community to shape and guide ethics and behaviours, [and consequences] for those who do not treat others with respect.”

Denise Schaefer, a Peruvian-American based in Los Angeles and co-founder of Surge Women, is committed to boosting the number of women working in Web3.

“Whoever is building something has a lot of impact on the output,” she says. “For this reason, we need to ensure women are building this new frontier alongside men.”

Surge Women was launched as an education and onboarding platform focused on securing women’s place in this new workplace, says Ms. Schaefer. Anyone who purchases a Surge Women NFT gets “Passport Perks” along with their asset. These perks include discounts, subscriptions and vouchers, plus access to scholarships, festivals, courses and bootcamps.

“Today, only five per cent of leadership roles in crypto are held by women,” she says. “We’ve created Surge Web3 Jobs as a place where crypto organizations can come to improve their gender diversity by hiring female and non-binary talent.”

Progress in the metaverse can incite real world change

Dr. Renée Ottens, the Australian co-founder of Gala Grrrls, took inspiration from her background in forensic science and crime analysis to create an NFT project that could raise awareness about domestic violence.

“I am a forensic scientist by education who moved into criminal intelligence work with police departments. In my unit, it was predominantly women and children who were the victims of the crimes that I investigated,” says Dr. Ottens. As someone with training in domestic violence risk assessment, she felt the call to combine advocacy and education, creating To the Front, an education-based initiative focused on domestic violence issues.

Collaborating with NFT artists, Gala Grrrls offers digital assets that can be purchased with cryptocurrency. Each transaction creates a traceable digital fingerprint, allowing creators to receive a direct profit from their work.

Dr. Ottens uses this model with Gala Grrrls to ensure female creators are fully compensated for their work and receive continuous royalties from secondary market sales. Purchasers also get access to information about domestic violence.

“If you hold one of our tokens, that is your access to all of our online learning courses and then you’ve got the freedom to gift that course to somebody else,” she says.

Dr. Ottens says she wants to change how domestic abuse is viewed and handled.

“Awareness is a key part of our mission; educating others and advocating for victims so that victims are not left to pick up the pieces themselves, because this is a societal issue that affects all genders,” she says.

As more women cement their space in Web3, they will become a bigger part of creating this exciting new world, says Ms. Schaefer.

“It’s hard to dream of yourself being the leader of something when you haven’t seen anyone who looks like you are doing it, which is why it’s so important to highlight female role models,” says Ms. Schaefer. “When we do, the snowball effect [takes] place.”

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