In 2009, New York climbers Mikhail Martin, Pieter Cooper and Davide Glace founded Brothers of Climbing, a group dedicated to getting more people of color involved in the sport. The community has since grown and hosts meetups across the country, operates an active Instagram account, and helped launch the Color the Crag climbing festival, which celebrates diversity in the outdoors. Now Cooper, a former employee of rock climbing gym Brooklyn Boulders, wants to build a gym in New York that reflects the mission of the group he co-founded.
“Brothers of Climbing created spaces for people of color when many people were unwelcome and reluctant to enter another white space,” Cooper said. “We want to have a place where people can come and feel comfortable.”
In late 2020, Cooper teamed up with Samantha Zo, creative strategist and community builder, Marcus J. Brooks, former general manager of Brooklyn Boulders, and Raheim Robinson, creative director and rock climber, to explore the idea of building a gym. ‘escalation. with a team of people of color, to better represent a wider swath of the climbing community. The timing coincided with the exponential growth in popularity of Web3 technology and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and the team wondered if they could leverage blockchain technology to raise funds. They launched their project, called Chalk Plant, on April 7 in an Instagram post.
“Our roadmap leads to a physical space but also a virtual experience where everyone can support and participate,” Zo said.
By using revenue from NFT sales, group members say they will avoid paying costs levied by other crowdsourcing platforms like GoFundMe or Kickstarter, which can amount to 2.9-5% of the total amount raised.
“This is the first such project I’ve heard of,” said Laura Allured, senior membership and marketing manager for the Climbing Wall Association, a trade group for indoor climbing gyms. “Good to see innovation in the industry and a community fundraising model.”
Chalk Plant will need to raise several million dollars to move the project forward, and its founders are considering potential locations in the Brooklyn, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods. The exact details, such as whether the gym will offer sport climbing, bouldering or both, depend on the success of the fundraising campaign. But the team members are certain of one thing: they absolutely want a resident DJ.
An initial round of 1,000 NFTs will launch later this summer on a curated whitelist of family, friends, and core fans. Ultimately, they hope to raise around $250,000 with these tokens before hitting mainstream NFTs later this year.
Over the past few months, the minting and selling of NFTs has helped niche communities raise millions of dollars in funding. One project, called LinksDAO, has sold $10.4 million in NFT to pay for the creation of a golf course, the location of which will be chosen by its members. Another group, PleasrDAO, raised $4 million from NFT sales to buy the WuTang album “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” from Marin Shkreli, notorious owner of pharmaceutical companies Vyera and Turing.
“With NFTs, there is a receipt that we can use to track members. On top of that, we may add other benefits as the community grows,” Cooper said, mentioning things like pro offers and exclusive content.
In addition to building the gym, the founders of Chalk Plant want to teach its members the basics of Web3 technology, NFTs, and cryptocurrency. NFT holders will be part of a private channel on the Discord chat platform, where experts will discuss escalation, crypto and wealth generation, among other topics.
“We want to be one of the first climbing communities to have open conversations about things like NFTs, crypto, stocks and interest rates,” Brooks said. “Sharing and learning together comes with communities that trust each other.”
Unlike membership campaigns or founding member buy-ins, the launch of an NFT serves as an invitation to the community (but does not include future gym membership dues). By creating and selling the first round of NFTs, founders will have what essentially amounts to seed capital to begin building gym infrastructure without dipping into future profits.
“As a community of climbers, creators and artists, we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of something new,” Zo said. “The world is moving towards adopting Web3 and NFTs as the standard. It is in our interest that we see this as an opportunity.