What if you could visit the Taj Mahal or Santiago de Compostela without ever having to get on a plane? What if you could tour art galleries around the World from the comfort of your home? These are the strides that the Google Cultural Institute is attempting to make. Google is no longer just an ordinary search engine. It is becoming a very diverse educational tool as well as a digital archive for artworks and galleries from across the globe. Some of the Institute’s online projects include: Historic Moments, World Wonders, Google Art Project, Open Gallery, and Street Art.
The Historic Moments project is a compilation of online exhibitions focusing on important moments in history. These exhibitions tell a visual story through the use of images and video. Some of the exhibitions featured include stories surrounding the Holocaust, the Spanish Civil War, the Fall of the Berlin Wall among many others. The images come from museum collections around the world which allows for a diverse range of historical events.
The World Wonders initiative is particularly interesting because it reflects the globalization of our modern society. Cities and countries around the world are more connected than ever. World Wonders allows for the public to access sites that they otherwise might not be able to. Some of the destinations include: Giza Necropolis, Angkor Wat Temple, Versailles, Stonehenge, Grand Canyon, Antarctica. This may be especially useful for teachers because the street view option allows you to interact with these spaces in ways that ordinary photographs do not. You can walk through the archaeological site of Pompei from the comfort of your desk. Some sites only allow for exterior views, while others will allow you to tour inside buildings. Of course, the technology is still in development so there are glitches and this digital view will never quite compare to visiting in person. However, the concept behind these online projects really allows for greater accessibility to these locations and challenges the ways in which we perceive space and distance.
The Google Art Project allows access to collections, artists, works of art, and participating galleries that can be searched using the tool bar at the top left corner of the page. This is an excellent resource for viewing a wide range of different mediums and artworks. The artist category and search option is particularly useful if you happen to be looking for works done by a specific artist. However, the project is in its early stages and still has some issues of representation. Only select galleries are participating and from those galleries only selected works are featured.
Google Open Gallery allows for cultural institutions to upload images, video, audio, and exhibitions to the web. Institutions must fill out a request form to be invited to participate in open gallery. This project functions as a new kind of online exhibition platform for museums, galleries, and archives. This is an excellent complement and alternative to the Google Art Project because it allows the institution to maintain control over all curatorial aspects.
The Street Art Project features artworks by street artists from all around the world. You can search based on collections, artists, works of art, and galleries similar to the Google Art Project set-up. This project is extremely useful because street art is typically ephemeral, difficult to find, and spread out in cities. Here, some of the greatest street art by many of the most well-known street artists has been collected and preserved to be accessible online.
There have been concerns over whether digital access to museums, art, and historical sites will make it less likely for people to visit these places. However, as Walter Benjamin taught us, the liminal experience of viewing something in person will always be greater than even the most accurate mechanical reproduction. In many ways, the Google Cultural Institute may increase awareness of these places and encourage them to travel abroad to see some of these spectacular sites. The extensive amount of images and information makes it an invaluable resource for both students and teachers, as well as the general public.