Exploring ideas and engaging in conversation

Author: Kristin Bierfelt

Google ArtProject

Google Art Project: Accessibility and Close Looking

Google Art Project, which launched on February 1, is touted as Google Street View indoors. Art Project presents gallery views from 17 major international institutions—from the Met and MoMA to the Hermitage to Tate Britain—which let visitors explore a 360-degree panorama of almost 400 different rooms throughout the museums. Google plans to include more institutions and more works of art as the project evolves.

In addition to gallery views, each participating institution selected one signature to present in remarkably high resolution. These works, presented in “gigapixel” detail, bring paintings like Chris Ofili’s “No Woman No Cry” at Tate Britain to the screen with 7-billion-pixel resolution—allowing viewers to pan and zoom in closer than any museum guard would ever permit. It’s an approach that pairs well with art critic and historian James Elkin’s recently launched series on close and careful observation at the Huffington Post. Elkin’s first column focused on a Mondrian at the Art Institute of Chicago and encourages readers to look at brush strokes where colors meet and other extremely minute details. Art Project’s gigapixel images are excellent practice grounds for that level of exploration.

Some museum traditionalists, including Alastair Sook at The Telegraph, seem to suggest that Google wants to replace a museum experience with an online one. But just as photographic reproductions didn’t eliminate the lure of the authentic object, there is no reason to believe that digital reproductions will do so either. Presumably the many museums that have put their collections online in the last decade don’t believe that either.

Amit Sood, the head developer on Art Project, puts it this way in the Google Blog:

[We] got together to think about how we might use our technology to help museums make their art more accessible—not just to regular museum-goers or those fortunate to have great galleries on their doorsteps, but to a whole new set of people who might otherwise never get to see the real thing up close.

Eliza Murphy, writing for the Atlantic, validates that goal. She remembers an art history professor who often reminded his students that they couldn’t possibly understand a work of art until they saw it in person and writes, “Thank you, Google Art Project, for saving us all from pretentious museum buffs worldwide. Just because I have not yet had the privilege of visiting all of the best art-holding institutions, does not mean that I am any less of an enthusiast than those that are older and better traveled.”

Decide for yourself at googleartproject.com.

Stories Behind the Paintings at the Sukiennice Museum

Krakow’s newly renovated Sukiennice Museum of 19th-century Polish art has a splashy video showing off the interactive campaign they did to publicize their 2010 reopening. In an attempt to make the art “come to life,” they recorded audio and video recreations of stories behind the artists, subjects, or patrons or a few of their most important paintings. One part of the project involved augmented reality, where visitors could view the video and painting at the same time through a smartphone app.

From this clip, it looks like the project was more about attention-getting marketing than an interpretation strategy. It’s no substitute for close observation of the paintings themselves, but it would be interesting to hear audience feedback about whether discovering the stories behind these few paintings piqued their curiosity in looking more closely at other work in the museum. Better to be drawn in by bells and whistles than not go to a museum at all?

AAM Webinar on Social Media and Museum Advocacy

In early December, AAM sponsored a webinar on social media and museum advocacy. Led by Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates, the presentation provided basic lessons in how to use newer tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to cultivate supporters and engage elected officials. Here are some of Vance’s suggestions:

Blogs: If you’re writing on behalf of an organization, Vance advises avoiding politically partisan messages, but there’s no reason you can’t talk about legislation that affects your museum or ask your audience to let their representatives know how important your museum is to them. She cites I Heart Art: Portland, Small Museum
, and Exploratorium Explainers as examples of blogs that do a good job informing and inspiring their audience beyond just marketing.

Twitter: Search for your museum’s name to see who is already talking about you, and respond to those people. Cultivate followers and let them know about issues your museum is facing, locally or nationally. You can follow AAM (@AAMers) to get advocacy action alerts that you can share. Sign up for your legislators’ Twitter feeds and tag them in relevant messages. For example, Michael Capuano (@mikecapuano) is the congressional representative in Tufts’ district, so you might ask your audience to retweet a message asking him to support FY12 funding for IMLS.

LinkedIn Connect to your city councilors, congressional representatives, mayor’s office, etc. and see if you share any 2nd-degree connections. You may find that a former classmate or colleague has a connection that could help your message find its way to a legislator’s desk more quickly.

Facebook The fastest-growing demographic on Facebook are users who are 35 and older, Vance says, and more and more legislators are using it as a major communication tool. You can “like” your legislators’ pages and post on their walls about upcoming events and community partnerships. Search for your museum on Flickr or YouTube and repost links to any user-generated content that shows their constituents are engaging with your organization.

Once you get the hang of in social media as a way to communicate with legislators and cultivate community supporters, make sure you teach these tools to volunteer committees or friends’ groups who are already valuable “real-world” advocates for your museum.

Speak Up for Museums is AAM’s museum advocacy initiative. Check there for more tips and webinars, and to find out more about AAM’s Museum Advocacy Day, February 28 and March 1 in Washington, D.C. You can view a recording of this webinar as part of AAM’s advocacy trainings website.

Kris Bierfelt is a student in the Tufts Museum Studies certificate program, and works as a freelance writer and editor.

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