How UTA’s Lesley Silverman Went from Art Law to Helping Artists Launch Web3 Projects
Lesley Silverman, head of Web3 at UTA. Courtesy Lesley Silverman.
“It was a time when the art world felt pretty unregulated and like the Wild Wild West—multimillion-dollar transactions happening on little more than a paper napkin. My role as an attorney was to bring some order to the chaos.” That’s how Lesley Silverman describes her time working in art law before joining United Talent Agency in 2015 to help launch that firm’s fine arts division. While UTA is best known as a global agency representing some of the biggest names in film and television, Silverman worked with similarly high-profile clients in the realm of visual arts, such as Judy Chicago and Ai Weiwei.
Now she’s moved onto the metaverse, serving as the head of the agency’s Web3 division, which it launched in March of last year. But despite coming from a background in the traditional art world, the UCLA School of Law grad feels right at home in the digital sphere. “I feel really comfortable here because it does feel very similar to what the art world felt like in 2015, but at a much faster clip and at a much more expansive and globally buzzy level,” she said over Zoom.
Like so many, Silverman was first drawn to the Web3 space during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the end of 2020, she was spending time on Clubhouse and listening to artists she’d known from her time in the art world discuss the potential of blockchain technology. Of particular interest was “the opportunity [for artists] to leverage smart contracts to participate in their ongoing royalties, their secondary market—which is something the art world has struggled to have. I just thought it was a really exciting and disruptive thing that was happening,” she explained.
But as disruptive as the new technology has been, and as steep of a learning curve as it might entail, Silverman has been able to apply many of the same skills to her tech-forward projects as her previous, more traditional clients. “The most rewarding part of my job as a whole is getting to work with extraordinary talent,” she said. “In that way, representation of creators that are digitally native is no different than representation of creators who are not digitally native.”
That said, there are plenty of particularities when working with clients such as Larva Labs and Deadfellaz. Unlike working with individual artists, “projects are individual companies,” Silverman said. “You’re seeing projects being launched that have roadmaps attached to them. That’s no different than a company being announced that has a specific role that they’re building for themselves in the world.”
Working with the tech-savvy is only part of her job, though. Silverman’s role also includes helping more traditional artists and other clients launch their own Web3 projects. Whether clients are digital natives or relatively late adopters, digital markets are an especially volatile place, especially as recent history has shown: In the past five weeks, cryptocurrencies plunged and wiped out almost $1 trillion in market value.
Silverman, though, is looking to the future. “Volatility is volatility and that’s what this environment contains, and if it’s in a specific spot right now, it’s going to be in a different spot in a handful of months,” she said, emphasizing that when it comes to advising clients, “we talk a lot about safe practices and ways of entering into the space thoughtfully and organically.”
She’s used that thoughtfulness when building her own art collection, which spans both the digital and traditional art worlds; it includes Erick Calderon’s Chromie Squiggle and other Art Blocks projects; a Women Rise NFT; and works by ThankYouX and Jessica Bellamy. Silverman’s support for artists was, after all, a major factor in her entering the Web3 space to begin with. “Smart contracts were my initial spark and interest point that really pulled me in with both feet,” she said. “Anything that restores power to the original creator is really exciting to me.”
On that point, she’s optimistic about what’s in store for art across both tech and analog worlds, that those two separate spheres will continue to be increasingly intertwined, and that the benefits of that melding will accrue to artists themselves. “I think the future of the art world has a blurrier line between the physical realm and the digital realm,” Silverman said. “Down the road, you’re going to buy a physical painting, you’re going to get an NFT; that NFT helps artists—the original creator—participate in their secondary market. I think that is an eventuality, and that’s really exciting.”