Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Google and Collections

Claire Voon, Why Museums Are Granting Google Free Access to Their Collections, Hyperallergic, 25 May 2016

Google Cultural Institute recently revealed that it has engineered the creatively named Google Art Camera: a custom-built camera intended to capture “ultra-high resolution ‘gigapixel’ images” of artworks in museums around the world. It also shared about 1,000 of these photographs online that allow anyone with internet access to zoom in closely to examine the originals — or rather, representations of the originals — in staggering detail. This collection will continue to grow as Google plans to send its 20-strong camera convoy to museums around the world. It also means that Google is increasingly receiving and compiling a ton of data for free (it doesn’t pay the museums) — so we were curious: what are the benefits museums receive by showcasing their collections on another platform?

What is perhaps the most obvious answer is the one every museum representative I spoke with provided: that placing an institution’s artworks on Google grants museums’ collections much more visibility and public access — which, for many of them, constitutes a central objective. Of course, not all objects from collections are digitized: over the span of five or so days, a Google team visits a museum and captures a handful to dozens of its objects depending on size and the museum’s ability to move art, according to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art‘s Chief Information Officer Doug Allen. This gives museums an opportunity to highlight key objects in its collection — to have some of its favorite pieces available online for anyone’s close perusal.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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