ARTXV Founder Ava Halvai on Celebrating Neurodiversity in NFTs
It doesn’t seem hyperbolic to say that ARTXV truly represents the best of what NFTs can be for many people. As the first NFT collective for neurodivergent artists, ARTXV is on a mission to provide community support for those artists. Moreover, in an interview with NFTevening, ARTXV founder Ava Halvai explains how ultimately, she wants to see more neurodivergent people and people with disabilities join the Web3 revolution, whether as artists or in other ways.
Quotes are condensed and edited for clarity.
Ava’s sister Tara found her artistic spark during the lockdown
At first glance, it might be surprising to see a young computer science Master’s student from the UK at the helm of a pioneering, global NFT art collective. Even so, the reality is that the ARTXV mission resonates deeply with Ava Halvai. And the story of how ARTXV came to be, really starts with Ava’s amazing older sister.
Ava’s sister and co-founder Tara is autistic. And although art had been a hobby of hers, it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns in 2020 that Ava began to realize just how talented of an artist Tara was.
“She was doing art classes and things like that more as a hobby, but it was during the pandemic that I took a look at it. And I thought, wow, this could be up there with any other artist.”
Being the proud sister that she is, Ava began sharing Tara’s art on Instagram where it started to gain some traction. That’s where the idea from ARTXV started to bubble. As Ava says, “It grew from there and people were really loving it. So I thought let’s make a collective.”
Notably, Tara was far from the only ARTXV artist who found their creative voice in 2020.
“What’s really interesting is that quite a few of our artists started art during the pandemic. And you’d never believe it – you’d think they were doing it for years or they had a formal education in art. So obviously whilst the pandemic was terrible, it kind of brought this new spark within our artists.”
The Clubhouse days that helped lead The Halvais to NFTs
Although digital artists were naturally among the first to adopt NFT art, Tara herself is actually a painter. In fact, many of the artists in ARTXV create physical art, though of course there is some digital art in the mix as well. Given that, turning Ava’s work into NFTs wasn’t necessarily obvious from the jump.
As with many people, Ava first heard about NFTs through the social audio app Clubhouse. And while she reflects that those early spaces were intimidating, they ended up being a valuable introduction to the space. It was around that time that people first started to suggest to Ava that she should help her sister sell her work as NFTs.
“What happened is that actually, a few people came up to me and said you should sell your sister’s work as an NFT. And I was like well what’s an NFT? And they were like well we don’t know. But you should do it anyway.”
To be sure, Ava wasn’t fully sold on NFTs at first. For one thing, she wasn’t sure that non-technical people could easily onboard into NFTs. She did soon learn that not only was it possible, but that there was a healthy and welcoming community there. In addition, she knew that NFTs were becoming “all the rage” but wasn’t yet convinced that they were more than just a phase. Thankfully, she came to see them as a valuable outlet.
“At the beginning I was like, okay it’s a bit of hype but maybe we’ll get some attention. But yeah, the more and more I looked at it, I was like, Okay, actually, this is a way of getting these artists’ voices heard.”
NFTs gave Tara a platform when traditional art would not
Another important factor for Ava and Tara embracing NFTs was their experience with the traditional art world. As a matter of fact, she reflects on how Tara’s art was met with some serious resistance.
“What became apparent, and what all of our other artists also experienced, was that the traditional art world didn’t really take them seriously. They were quite dismissive when they heard they were disabled or neurodivergent. So when I heard about NFTs, I thought, you know this is a very cool new community. They’re open to change. They want to stray from old, archaic systems.”
ARTXV caters to “the largest minority in the world”
The ‘XV’ in the name ARTXV refers to the statistic that around 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability. That equates to over one billion people, and is the reason why Ava calls people with disabilities “the largest minority in the world.”
Of course, a huge part of the ARTXV mission is increasing the visibility of neurodivergent and disabled people in Web3 as a whole. When it comes to NFT art specifically, Ava recounts an exercise from her presentation at ETH Denver, designed to give people a new perspective on neurodivergent people’s place in the art world.
“I did a little exercise for everyone: I showed them Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol, and Picasso. And I asked everyone, What do you think they all have in common? [The answer was] they were all thought to be neurodivergent.”
The point that Ava makes through this anecdote is that, clearly, writing off neurodivergent artists is a mistake. After all, those three artists are some of the most significant names in all of art history. Ava wants to impart the fact that neurodivergent artists have so much to offer as artists, and sees ARTXV as a vehicle to make that a greater possibility.
“I really believe that neurodivergence impacts your work in so many amazing ways. Having that unique view of the world because your brain functions differently isn’t a hindrance. If anything it’s the opposite. It’s such a beautiful thing to have. So I have no doubt that those three artists’ neurodivergence contributed to [their work].”
The future for Tara, Ava, ARTXV and neurodivergent NFT artists
All in all, Ava notes that the experience of her, Tara, and the ARTXV collective has been overwhelmingly positive.
“There’s definitely a need to increase diversity and inclusion in the space and I won’t pretend that it’s all rosy. But people seem to be open to it, which is fantastic.”
On that note, ARTXV has certainly hit some major milestones as it continues to grow. Tara herself has become an ambassador for Mencap – the largest disability charity in the UK.
Another milestone that stands out for Ava is the collective’s partnership with Google Arts & Culture. The upcoming project will highlight ARTXV artists, making them the first NFT art collective that Google Arts & Culture has partnered with. Ava particularly loves how the project will put the ARTXV artists front and center.
“What I love about it is, it’s just the artists. It’s their voice. You know I often speak on behalf of the artists but this is them. Their life, their stories, and experiences. It’s a tear-jerker, but it’s beautiful.”
In the end, ARTXV’s mission will not be accomplished overnight. To be sure, the lack of representation across industries for neurodivergent and disabled people is significant. Nevertheless, Ava is confident about how ARTXV can contribute to changing that narrative. And making sure that this becomes another thing that sets Web3 apart from what has come before it.
“I would love the real-life statistics to reflect in Web3 and all its ecosystems. So if we can onboard as many disabled neurodivergent people, autistic or not, and get them to the forefront of this technology. Then yeah, I’ll die happy. And we have plenty of other ideas as well.”