What is the name of your solution?
Protecting Indigenous Art Markets through Security Printing
Provide a one-line summary of your solution.
Using Security Printing and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology to authenticate and protect Indigenous Arts, Crafts, Antiquities, and Artifacts.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
The International Chamber of Commerce forecasted the global value of counterfeit goods to rise from $650B in 2008 to $1.8T in 2015. Approximately 1% of the medicine in the U.S. and 10%-30% in developing countries, is counterfeit. The ICC claims “more than 80 people in the U.S. died because of the 2008 counterfeiting of heparin, and counterfeit auto parts resulted in over 25,000 deaths in India in 2009.” Counterfeit computer hardware/software nexus are an extreme hazard as it was reported 9,356 counterfeit microelectronics incidents discovered by military suppliers. When it comes to counterfeit items, nothing is safe; even items created by some of the most impoverished, vulnerable communities such Indian reservations.
This project authenticates and protects Native American Arts, Crafts, and Antiquities. There is currently no technology or comprehensive database that authenticates, catalogs, profiles artist, artwork, and has track-and-trace features for high value, historic arts, historic artifacts, crafts, and antiquities. The only legal protection offered is through the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. The Department of Interior defines the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (Act) of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) as “a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian art and craft products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell, any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. For a first-time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000.
Ken Salazaar, the Secretary of the Department of Interior, stated that, “the total market for American Indian and Alaska Native arts and crafts in the United States is estimated at a billion dollars, with an unknown but substantial amount of those sales going to misrepresented, non-authentic works.” He praises the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendment Act because it “is good news because it increases economic development and job opportunities for Native Americans who produce and market authentic Indian art and craftwork while cracking down on counterfeit marketers who are hurting sales of this authentic Indian work.” However, there are claims the Act has “no teeth” as investigations and prosecution has rarely been enforced.”
The National Geographic magazine published the article, Biggest Fake Native American Art Conspiracy Revealed, that illustrates two criminal organizations, according to the FBI, accused, one found guilty, for sale of counterfeit Native American artwork. The article states, “For as long as the Zunis and other indigenous artisans have sold their crafts, they've been undercut by fakes—nonnatives posing as Indians to sell more of their work, factory made goods sold as handmade. But today's fakes include a virtual torrent of knockoffs cheaply manufactured overseas and masquerading as genuine Native made—baskets made in Pakistan sold as Navajo, beadwork made in China sold as Plains Indian, Hopi katsina dolls cranked out in the Philippines—none more profitable than counterfeit Indian jewelry.” This national impact is further illustrated at a meeting the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, U.S. Senator Mark Udall, held on July 17, 2017. Senator Udall claims an estimate of 80 percent of Native American artwork is counterfeit. At an estimated billion-dollar industry by Dept. of Interior Sec. Salazaar, I think it’s safe to say this issue cannot be remedied by legislature.
This problem goes beyond just livelihood of Native American artists. Protected species are being illegally traded, sold, and transported. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the assistance from the National Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, focus on allegations that numerous individuals were actively involved in the acquisition, possession, and sale of items protected by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and the Endangered Species Act. For example, in February 2000, agents served two Federal search warrants in Santé Fe, New Mexico and one in Minneapolis, Minnesota to recover items of Native American patrimony and evidence related to unlawful possession and sale of said items. As a result, a man was convicted on October, 2000 for selling an eagle feather headdress for $140,000. He was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2002) In another FBI/Special Operation investigation, two men from Atlanta, Georgia were arrested in Philadelphia. The two tried to sell an eagle feather headdress allegedly worn by the Apache leader Geronimo via the Internet. The headdress was fashioned with 48 eagle feathers and was advertised for $1.2 million. In October 2000, both men pleaded guilty to misdemeanor violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They were ordered to forfeit the headdress to the government and sentenced to six months of probation. The Comanche Tribe and the Mescalero Apache Tribe of Oklahoma have made claims for the return of the headdress. Procedures under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act will determine its disposition.
What is your solution?
My solution deters fake and illegal Native American arts, crafts, and antiquities being sold and traded in said industries. My solution authenticates Native American arts, crafts, and antiquities by using “up-converting” vanadium nanoparticles. An ink formulation suspends Lanthanide dopedβ‐NaYF4 nanoparticles which is invisible under ambient lighting condition until it is excited with a near-infrared laser. An Optomec Aerosol Jet Printer prints unique, covert Quick Response (QR) codes.
During the Proof of Concept stage, the doped ink formulation is printed in common substrates used in Lakota arts and crafts; elk hide, deer hide, and a feather. The Optomec Aerosol Jet Printer was used for printing. A covert quick response code was printed using “up-converting” nanoparticle, which is more costly than using “down-converting” ink. However, since the technology to print and authenticate the item is specialized secure, covert printing may be the best practical application for the antiquities market. Quick response codes would be ideal for authentication for artifacts for curators and collector as they can be serialized for potential track-and-trace application. Quick response codes can store more than 4,000 alphanumerical characters, be used as a link directly to a URL, and track how many times the code has been scanned. Once an artifact has been authenticated a digital document can be stored within a quick response code. This document can describe all identifying information about the artifact.
A mobile app will be created to store a database of artist who choose to use this technology. Consumers will access to information about items they purchase such as authenticity, the artist, their tribe, information about the item, significance, number of copies, etc.
Strong preference will be given to Native-led solutions that directly benefit and are located within the Indigenous communities. Which community(s) does your solution benefit? In what ways will your solution benefit this community?
Well, first, I am a member of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. I am leading team member. I grew up and reside in Rapid City, South Dakota which has a significant Native American population; primarily from Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota tribes. I have worked, and am still working, in an engineering, business, and law enforcement (race relations) capacity in tribal communities locally, and at a national level.
This technology will initially serve Native American artists, retail shops, and buyers of Native American arts, crafts, and antiquities in the Great Plains area. However, it has highly feasible potential impact Native American art markets, museums, and cultural expos at a national level and for all 367 federally recognized tribes.
In July 2013, the First Peoples Fund Report, “Establishing a Creative Economy: Arts as an Economic Engine in Native Communities,” conducted a study of 143 emerging and potential indigenous artists from Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington; 77 percent of the being from South Dakota. The study states that 51 percent of Native households on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation depend on home-based enterprises for income. Of that 51 percent, 79 percent of those enterprises consist of some form of traditional arts. This report identifies the following items as a hinderance to sales: Access to Markets; Access to Informal Social Networks; Business Knowledge; and Access to Supplies.
My solution provides a mechanism to authenticate Native American arts, crafts, and antiquities by utilizing a unique, covert signatured Quick Response (QR) code. Tribal communities in South Dakota are in remote locations, resulting in an increased cost for supplies. To recoup cost, a value-added component must be attached to those items. Authentication and information about the arts, crafts, and antiquities is valuable so buyers do not have to rely on misinformation of store clerks, confusion of cultural background that differ from tribe to tribe, and stereotypes. Lack of business knowledge and access to markets can be addressed by the mobile app itself. Not only can the app be used for authentication, data sharing, a reporting method for the sale and advertisement of fake Native American artwork, but also serve a nexus to local shops and tourist traps to offer wholesale authentic Native American art. It is understandable how buying fake, imported items is convenient for said shops and tourist gift shops as it may be mass-produced, cheaper, and accessible compared to handmade items a local Native American Artist would provide. This whole solution begins to surface more issues that need to be addressed pertaining to supply chain, marketing, and authenticity.
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
The Black Hills in South Dakota is a prime location to implement this pilot project. It is highly isolated as major metropolises and population centers are at least seven hours away. It serves as a huge tourist attraction as it contains Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, the Bad Land National Park, the Black Hills Annual Pow Wow, the Wounded Knee Grave Site, historic museums, great hunting and fishing areas, the list goes on. Tourism is a primary economic driver for Rapid City and surrounding tribal communities. Rapid City also serves a hub for tribal communities and border towns as it is the only location to purchase clothes, foods, household supplies at a reasonable cost. The Black Hills area is close as I will get to a research area “vacuum” to gather data on this pilot stage due to its remote location. Also, marketing impact advertising artwork marked with security printing, the impact of counterfeit artwork has locally, and methods to report the sale or marketing of fake Native American artwork will not go unnoticed by tourists and locals.
Dr. Kellar was the Co-Co-Principal Investigator for the Security Printer and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology Research Grant funded through the National Science Foundation. This grant led to a partnership with the Red Cloud Indian High School Heritage Center Museum to authenticate Lakota artifacts through forensic analysis and security printing on an annual basis. In fact, I authenticated a Lakota Buffalo Horn Headdress said to be 150 years old for the Security Printer and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology program. This platform has led to partnerships with the Dahl Fine Arts Center, the Journey Museum, the Sioux Indian Museum, the Center for American Indian and Native Studies, Prairie Edge Trading Post, and many more businesses, organizations, Lakota Elders, and keepers of cultural wisdom.
As for myself, Vaughn Vargas, I have been extremely active in Rapid City and surrounding tribal communities. I started my collegiate career at Oglala Lakota College, a tribal college (TCU), before I matriculated to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. We are required to learn our culture, language, Indian law, etc. My research for Dr. Kellar led me to engage and consult with curators, subject matter experts of origins of beads, trade cloth, and other material used for common arts and crafts, and Lakota artists for information on manufacturing methods, stitching design various from tribe to tribe, and significance of items. I regularly attend the annual People of Plains (POP) Art Exhibit in Rapid City, Black Hills Annual Powwow, the Crazy Memorial exhibits, among more events. I get firsthand knowledge of artist and explicit information related to their career statute, challenges, and opportunities as an artist. I also have consulted museum curators which led to me being a docent for the Lakota Emergency Story Art Exhibit hosted by Dr. Craig Howe of the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies. This event contracted 18 modern Native American Artists to produce modern artwork to illustrate the Lakota Emergence Story from Wind Cave. It was paired with a narrative and historic artifact from the Sioux Indian Museum.
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Rapid City, South Dakota, USA
Our solution's stage of development:Pilot
How many people does your solution currently serve?
zero - solution has served countless people as it has served the Heritage Center Museum and their visitors.
Why are you applying to Solve?
The MIT Solve Fellowship offers access to subject matter experts across many industries. This is crucial for the next steps of project development as my mentors have a strong background in metallurgical engineering, but I require assistance piloting security printing technology in local markets. I have a background in management and finance but will need additional support to execute a more strategic market analysis. I would also require critical analysis of seasoned professional of a strategic plan
There has been development for reading quick response pertaining to vanadium up-converting nanoparticle. However, I will have to establish a mobile app specific to artist and consumer needs. I have no experience in mobile application design. As much as I would love to learn python and other mobile application software, I am well aware of my strengths and weakness. Learning such programming skillsets would prolong development of this endeavor and would not play on my strengths. This project requires additional team support. I am hoping this fellowship will provide me access to potential partners to assist with this component.
Assistance and recognition as an M.I.T. Solve Fellow will provide me a platform across numerous sectors. In this case, this opportunity can pair me with mentors and professionals who can advise me to establish a partnership with tribal, state, and federal governments. Ideally, this solution will also serve Department of Interior’s mission of enforcing the Indian Arts and Crafts Act by discouraging and mitigating the import and sale of counterfeit artwork, artifacts, and antiquities. This solution will require trust and partnership with Tribal Government Enrollment Offices. Native Artists will have to initially provide proof of enrollment.
Lastly, I hope to gain mentorship to help me accelerate the pilot project to broaden service and applicability of this technology to other tribes and areas.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your Team Lead.
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Is the Team Lead a resident of the United States?
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Support the creation and growth of Native owned businesses and promote workforce programs in tribal communities.
What makes your solution innovative?
There are currently no methods of authentication for Native American arts and crafts. Manipulative marketing tactics strategically hide that a product was made in China or price tags are placed over such required disclaimer. More alarming, there is currently no in-depth defense to deter sales of counterfeit Native American arts, crafts, and antiquities except for the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. It has been stated by many prominent artists, Elders, and legislatures that this law has “no teeth” and little ability to thoroughly investigate and prosecute claims.
There are no current industrial defenses other than hand signatures or providing a note with the artists’ degree of Indian blood quantum number, A.K.A. Tribal ID U-Number. There are no means for the potential buyer to verify such information. Additionally, tourists being primary purchases of these items in giftshops, galleries, etc. may be none the wiser of counterfeit items, blood degree, and other pertinent information about the artists/items. Without a more in-depth study, it is hard to quantify the local impact this is making in the Great Plains area so artists may be none the wiser of the impact imported counterfeit artwork is having on them personally!
Using Security Printing and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology will be transformative to the Native American Arts, Crafts, and Antiquities market in many ways. It can help create a database for Native American artists and potential buyers to verify authenticity. Native American Artists can inform buyers of significance, purpose, cultural history, designs, number of copies, etc. The track and trace features can provide crucial information on artifacts in museum exhibits and galleries.
This technology has tremendous potential to make a broader impact as the Northwest and Southwest Indian Art Markets have a strong presence. Those communities, being on the coast, are areas in which fake Native American artwork is imported.
What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?
My goal for the next year is to initiate a longitudinal survey for buyers such as avid collectors, Native American, and tourists. I hope to garner a better understanding of baseline knowledge of the Native American Art Market, presence an impact of counterfeiting artwork, revenue made, approximation of material and labor expense, average price of items. etc. The goal is to design a better metric for this value-added technology.
In the next year, ten local artists will be selected to pilot this technology. This will be highly informative pertaining to marketing, collaborative product integration with local shops and resellers, and market demands. It is in this stage I will investigate supply chain challenges, manufacturing items, and remedies to other barriers to the market.
I hope to have a working relationship with federal, state, and tribal governments. I must learn the concerns of all stakeholders for data breaches related to sensitive information of artists. I envision the mobile application not only serve indigenous artist and buyers of their work, but also serve as a reporting method of fraudulent and counterfeit artwork.
How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?
The vanadium nano-particle ink formulation has been printed of various substrates to determine best penetration methods during the manufacturing process. Quality control is commencing to ensure the ink permanently bonds with substrates. This proof of concept helped determine feasibility of security printing on various arts, crafts, and antiquities. Other methods of security printing are being explored that may be less costly, more viable, or require enhance security measures.
I am using local cost of common artwork sold (ex. Earrings, bracelets, jewelry, quillwork, quilted blankets, paintings, etc.). This is divided into three segments: The price a retail shop would purchase the item from an artist, the price a retail shop would re-sell that item, and the price an artist would sell it to the end-purchasers.
Ultimately, the real indicator is to measure increased sales, price of value-added technology, cost to maintain databases and relationships of partners, and additional overhead costs. The goal is to reduce poverty for tribal communities which are heavily reliant on supplemental income from the sale of artwork.
What is your theory of change?
The theory of this change is to bring immediate revenue to some of our nation’s most vulnerable and impoverished tribal communities, Indian reservations of South Dakota. The First Peoples Fund published a survey in their “Establishing a Creative Economy: Art as an Economic Engine in Native Communities.” The data showed that of 143 Native American artists throughout South Dakota, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, 61 percent of emerging artist declared they had a household income of less than $10,000.00. Additionally, emerging artists experience difficulty obtaining access to art materials and distribution channels for accessing market opportunities. The First Peoples Fund offers programs to help emerging artists, but only offer those once a year with limited availability. This solution offers broad service to artist is remote locations. It can serve as provide access to resellers and gift shops who want to improve the local economy, offer authentic artwork, and do not want to expose themselves to the risk of selling and/or marketing fake Native American Artwork.
It is highly likely that an artist would like free marketing, exposure, and connections to local markets during this pilot stage. Having a tribe enrollment providing a certificate of authenticity may be a necessary component that this team will not be in control of. A partnership will have to established with tribal governments, the Department of Interior, Chamber of Commerce, Better Business Bureau, museums, galleries, and giftshops. Also, ad space will have to educate consumers of the impact of counterfeit artwork in the Great Plains area has on local artists, likely origin of fake artwork, and large availability of such items in their likely tourist destinations.
The long-term theory of change is that we change method of delivery of such products. The goal is for Certificates of Authenticity become normalized in the Native American arts, craft, and antiquities market. Giftshops, retailers, and local stores think twice about purchasing large quantities of imported fake Native American arts and crafts for resell. Simultaneously, provide a solution so local shops have a stable supply of goods in which they can purchase wholesale. The goal is to assist the Department of Interior to enforce the 1990 American Indian Arts and Crafts Act.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
The primary technology is “up-converting” Lanthanide doped β‐NaYF4 ink formulate. The vanadium nanoparticles are invisible under ambient lighting condition until it is excited with a near-infrared laser. An Optomec Aerosol Jet Printer prints unique, covert Quick Response (QR) codes.
During the Proof of Concept stage, the doped ink fomulation is printed in common substrates used in Lakota arts and crafts; elk hide, deer hide, and a feather. The Optomec Aerosol Jet Printer was used for printing. A covert quick response code was printed using “up-converting” nanoparticle, which is more costly than using “down-converting” ink. However, since the technology to print and authenticate the item is specialized secure, covert printing may be the best practical application for the antiquities market. Quick response codes would be ideal for authentication for artifacts for curators and collector as they can be serialized for potential track-and-trace application. Quick response codes can store more than 4,000 alphanumerical characters, be used as a link directly to a URL, and track how many times the code has been scanned. Once an artifact has been authenticated a digital document can be stored within a quick response code. This document can describe all identifying information about the artifact.
A mobile app will be created to store a database of artist who choose to use this technology. Consumers will access to information about items they purchase such as authenticity, the artist, their tribe, information about the item, significance, number of copies, etc.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new application of an existing technology
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which states do you currently operate?
In which states will you be operating within the next year?
What type of organization is your solution team?
Not registered as any organization
How many people work on your solution team?
1, not including Principle Investor for NSF Grant for SPACT and other researchers advancing the technology.
How long have you been working on your solution?
What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?
Advancements in research and applicability of Security Printing and Anti-Counterfeiting Technology (SPACT) has been conducted by numerous universities through the U.S. The National Science Foundation (NSF) grant requires and Research Experience for Undergraduate (R.E.U.) experience for many different disciplines (biology, chemistry, engineering, I.T., etc.). Many different racial backgrounds, upbringings, and regional cultures are used to innovate applicability of Security Printing.
My goal is to diversify tribal representation in this research to extend beyond the Great Plains Area. I would like to acquire items to further proof of concept testing specific for those tribes. I would need ink formulation permeability of various substrates. Furthermore, I will need to learn challenges, access to markets, and market demands from artists, retail shops, and tourist hotspots in different tribes and location.
Diversity is needed in solution. It has a high concentration of engineers and scientists working on the solution, but subject matter experts in business, policy, government relations, entrepreneurship, etc. are needed to take this project to the next stage of a startup company, beyond the pilot stage.
What is your business model?
This business model is certainly a service subsidization. Artists provide the tangible assets and use our security printing services with quick response codes specific to the business’s database. Levels of security printing can be offered depending on the value of the items. The business has growth capacity to help artists design their own website and have the QR codes direct mobile phone scans to their website. Other consulting services can be offered to help artists by linking them to markets, fulfill orders for tourist gift shops, retail stores, and individual collector procurement. The vanadium nanoparticle ink can be used for high-end items, artifacts, and antiques due to their cultural sensitivity, value, and propriety.
The pilot program will be held in Rapid City as the research, equipment, and subject matter experts are stationed there. Aforementioned, Rapid City not only has a significant Native American population center, but it also serves as a hub for surrounding tribal communities (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, etc.). It is a tourist destination and is a primary host city as Rapid City has large complexes and facilities to support large Native American attractions and events.
This technology helps assure buyers that the purchase of Native American arts, crafts, and antiquities was indeed made by a Native American. The Black Hills area is known for Native American sacred sites, scenic views, and cultural experiences. How discomforting it would be for a buyer to find out their Native American cultural experience memento was actually made in China. Such is the case in Rapid City and surrounding communities. How discomforting it would be for a tourist with a genuine interest in Native American culture to purchase counterfeit artwork and coming to realize the economic and finance impact it had on Native American artists and their livability. Moreover, how discouraging, and embarrassing, it would be for a shop owner to be caught (un)knowingly marketing and/or selling fake Native American artwork. This solution is the nexus to bring such unspoken, more likely unknown, topics to light. This is the solution Native American artists didn’t know they were waiting for.
A revenue model cannot be evaluated yet as more market research needs to be conducted to determine cost of operations, materials, and other overhead items for security printing services. Additional research will have to be conduct to see how much additional cost an artist is willing to pay for utilization of such services. This is imperative as many artists are at severe economic disadvantages and this solution is designed to assist them, not add undue burden. This also relates to an additional expense to consumers and what they’re willing to pay; individual and retailers alike.
It would a be dream for this technology to absorbed or contracted with the Department of Interior by creating a viable solution to protect Native American artwork authenticity, mitigate sales and marketing of fake Native American artwork, and serve as a reporting method when illegal marketing and sales are conducted under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act. This also relates to other federal policies pertaining to endangered and protected species.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?Organizations (B2B)
What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?
The next step of this endeavor will likely require federal scientific grants for advancements and applicability and innovation for materials science. There are local arts councils and community funds that will likely support this with tangible and intangible resources. If the pilot phase shows promise, a Small Minority Owned Business Development Loan can be obtained through the Bureau of Indian Affairs – Office of Economic Development or a Tribal-operated CDFI.
It is fair to say that I will require assistance in this area for this entrepreneurial endeavor. However, the technology is sound. The proof of concept has been verified. It is ready to go into the next phase with a small group of local artist to test this technology in local markets.