Harvard Art Museums join Google Cultural Institute; Digital initiative allows increased accessibility

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Harvard Art Museums join Google Cultural Institute; Digital initiative allows increased accessibility
The 1,061 objects contributed to the Cultural Institute’s Art Project represent many areas from the museums’ comprehensive collections.

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- The Harvard Art Museums—comprising the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Arthur M. Sackler Museums— announced that they are now part of the Google Cultural Institute, joining more than 800 collections from art museums, heritage sites, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world. The Harvard Art Museums have contributed 1,061 high-resolution images of works of art to the Institute following the opening of the museums’ renovated and expanded new facility in November 2014. This contribution allows users to explore examples of the paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs, coins, decorative arts, and other objects in the Harvard Art Museums collections.

The 1,061 objects contributed to the Cultural Institute’s Art Project represent many areas from the museums’ comprehensive collections, including works from around the 2nd millennium BCE to the 20th century, from the Americas, Europe, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Asia.

While the museums have made their collections available for over 10 years on their own website, including images and in-depth information about objects, the contribution to Google’s platform allows for interlinking with other institution’s collections, enabling greater global access and discovery. In addition, Google’s custom-built smooth-zoom viewer supports higher-resolution images that can be seen in great detail, making the tool a powerful means of close looking similar to what is encouraged by the museums’ own online collections database.

“As an institution deeply invested in advancing knowledge about, and appreciation of, art, the Harvard Art Museums are pleased to join Google, allowing increased accessibility to our collections and supporting teaching and learning in diverse fields of inquiry across all disciplines,” said Deborah Kao, chief curator at the Harvard Art Museums. “This new collaboration greatly extends our digital footprint.”

Visitors to the Google Cultural Institute can search for objects in multiple ways, such as by institution, artist’s name, title of work, medium, geographic location, or date of creation. Google+ and video hangouts are integrated on the site, giving viewers the opportunity to invite friends to view and discuss their favorite works in a video chat or follow a guided tour from an expert to gain an appreciation of a particular topic or art collection.

The My Galleries feature allows users to save specific views of any item and build their own personalized gallery. Comments can be added to each painting, and the whole gallery can then be shared with friends and family. It’s an ideal tool for students or groups to work on collaborative projects or collections. In addition, a feature called “Compare” allows users to examine two works, or two portions of a single work, side-by-side to consider how an artist’s style evolved over time, connect trends across cultures, or delve deeply into two parts of the same work.

“I am excited that the Google Cultural Institute opens another doorway to the Harvard Art Museums and our collections, creating interesting connections with other institutions,” said Jeff Steward, the museums’ director of digital infrastructure and emerging technology. “The platform’s range complements the museums’ educational mission and, ultimately, helps to powerfully increase access to digital information about original works of art both through plan and through serendipity.”

To date, more than 170,000 artworks from over 800 partners and 60 countries are now available on Google Cultural Institute. The Harvard Art Museums join 34 other institutions for the launch on June 30, adding more than 90,000 new digital assets to the platform.

Founded in 2011, the Google Cultural Institute is dedicated to creating technology that helps the cultural community to bring their art, archives, heritage sites, and other material online. The aim is to increase the range and volume of material from the cultural world that is available for people to explore online and in doing so, democratize access to it and preserve it for future generations.

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