Introduction to Google Arts & Culture

by Patrick Jerry

Formerly known as the Google Art Project, Google Arts and Culture is one of a number of a number of projects under the banner of the “Google Cultural Institute.” Google advertises the institute as a “not-for-profit initiative that partners with cultural organizations to bring the world’s cultural heritage online” (“Google Cultural Institute”, 2015, n.p.). As part of this initiative, the Google Art Project has partnered with a large number of cultural institutions to host high quality digital representations of artwork and cultural artifacts from their collections, along with detailed information on the works’ background, physical characteristics, and artists. Google Arts and Culture also makes use of Google Street View technology to offer tours of participating institutions in full 3D.

Since its creation Google Arts and Culture has grown steadily, from seventeen partner institutions in 2011, to two-hundred and fifty by 2013 (Bayer, 2014). In 2016, Google claims the Cultural institute’s list of partner institutions has grown to more than one-thousand museums and cultural organizations (“Google Cultural Institute”, 2015). The goal of Google Arts and Culture is to leverage Google’s advanced technology to expand the reach of these museums and cultural institutions by digitizing their collections at a high level of quality and making these digital representations available across a wide variety of devices. Google Arts and Culture also attempts to ease discovery by allowing users to search through artist, medium, movement, historical event, historical figure, and place categories in addition to the standard search bar. This allows users with an understanding of the general subject matter they are interested in to discover and explore pieces within their areas of interest that they had no prior knowledge of. Furthermore, access to Google Arts and Culture is available at no cost, requiring only a Google account and a free app download on mobile devices.

Google Arts and Culture also offers its users limited freedom to act as curators within the online gallery. The user gallery feature expands upon the favorites feature that is common to many online galleries. In addition to marking works of art as favorites and saving them to their profiles, users can take their favorites and place them into separate user galleries which they can customize with titles and descriptions as they wish. These user galleries can be made public at the user’s discretion. Public user galleries can then be linked to externally and even discovered through Google Arts and Culture’s search engine. Through this feature Google Arts and Culture allows its users to more fully engage with the art that they consume. User galleries can expand the discourse around art by providing a free public space for individuals to share art commentary and critique, informed by the immediate presence of the artwork and its background information. By allowing users to transform and expand on the gallery in this way, it is possible that Google Arts and Culture could achieve the Google Cultural Institute’s goals of making art and cultural artifacts “more widely accessible to a global audience” (“Google Cultural Institute”, 2015, n.p.).