In 2009, New York City rock climbers Michael Martin, Peter Cooper, and David Glass 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, runs an active Instagram account, and helped launch Color the Crag Climbing Festival, which celebrates diversity in the outdoors. Alan Cooper — a former employee of the Brooklyn-Boulders Climbing Gym — wants to build a gym in New York City that reflects the mission of the group he co-founded.
“Brothers of Climbing created spaces for people of color when many people were not welcomed and were reluctant to go to another white space,” Cooper said. “We want a place where people can come and feel comfortable.”
In late 2020, Cooper teamed with Samantha Zoe, creative strategist and community builder, Marcus J. Brooks, former general manager of Brooklyn Boulders, and Rahim Robinson, creative director and climber, to explore the idea of building a climbing gym with a team of people of color, to represent the industry. Wider of the climbing community better. The timing coincided with the explosive growth in the popularity of Web3 technology and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and the team wondered if they could take advantage of 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 anyone can support and participate,” Zo said.
Using revenue from NFT sales, group members say they will avoid paying costs incurred by other crowdsourcing platforms such as GoFundMe or Kickstarter, which can take anywhere from 2.9 to 5 percent of the total amount raised.
“This is the first project of this kind I’ve heard of,” said Laura Allored, senior director of membership and marketing for the Climbing Wall Association, a trade group for indoor climbing gyms. “It’s great to see innovation in the industry and a model for community fundraising.”
The Chalk Plant would need to raise several million dollars to move the project forward, and its founders are eyeing potential sites in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant. The finer details — such as whether the gym will be climbing, rock climbing, or both — depend on the success of the fundraising campaign. But the team members are sure of one thing: they definitely want a resident DJ.
An initial round of 1,000 NFTs will be released later this summer to a curated whitelist of family, friends and core fans. Ultimately, they hope to raise around $250,000 using these tokens before releasing the NFTs to the general public later this year.
Over the past few months, the minting and sale of NFTs has helped niche communities raise millions of dollars in funding. One project, called LinksDAO, has sold $10.4 million in NFTs to pay for a golf course, the location of which will be chosen by its members. Another group, PleasrDAO, raised $4 million in NFT sales to purchase WuTang’s “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” album from Marin Shkreli, the infamous owner of drug companies Vyera and Turing.
“With NFTs, there is a receipt that we can use to track members. On top of that, we can add other perks as the community grows,” Cooper said, referring to things like professional deals and exclusive content.
In addition to building a gym, the founders of Chalk Plant want to educate its members about the basics of Web3 technology, NFTs, and cryptocurrency. NFT holders will become part of a private channel on the Discord chat platform, where experts will discuss climbing, cryptocurrency and wealth generation, among other topics.
“We want to be one of the first climbing communities to have open conversations about things like NFTs, cryptocurrencies, stocks and interest rates,” Brooks said. “Sharing and learning come together with communities that trust each other.”
Unlike membership campaigns or founding member purchases, the NFT launch is an invitation to the community (but does not include future gym membership fees). By creating and selling the first round of NFTs, the founders will have what essentially amounts to seed capital to start building the gym infrastructure without getting sucked into future profits.
“As a community of climbers, creators, and artists, we have an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of something new,” Zo said. “The world is moving towards adopting Web3 and NFTs as the standard. It is in our interest to build on this as an opportunity.”