National Parks Artifacts among Newest Additions to Google Cultural Institute

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Not sure when you’ll make time to visit the national parks? Google is prepared to take you there—virtually—both for scenic views and for close-ups of the art and artifacts you’d see. According to The Verge, Google, which has been “building out an online museum for the past five years,” is now adding nearly four thousand works of art, artifacts, and records as a result of a partnership with the National Park Service. These, along with almost sixty new Street View exhibits (50 outdoor park views and eight interior views of museums and historical locations), are part of the National Parks Collection on Google’s vast Cultural Institute site

Google Cultural Institute, which in just a few years has amassed images and information gathered from more than 1,000 groups from around the world, contains more than 730 art and cultural collections from sites and museums large and small. On one end of the spectrum are the world’s most visited institutions, including the Smithsonian, the British Museum and The Hermitage; on the other end, some that are very specialized, such as the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum and Japan’s Seto Inland Sea Folk History Museum.

New features and collections are being added at a dizzying pace. Google’s partnership with The British Museum was announced in November; one with the Guggenheim focusing on its architecture was announced in late January; in the first week of February, the site We Love Budapest announced partnerships with museums there. On a Lilliputian scale, there’s news from Hamburg, Germany, about Google capturing scenes fromMiniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway museum. This last was ingeniously done by putting a Google Street View camera on tiny toy cars and other vehicles and driving them around the model village exhibit, capturing hidden angles of streets and buildings too small or not visible to the naked eye.

Not everyone is a fan, of course. Last fall, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote in a piece entitled “The Google Art Heist” that “the more playful Google gets, the more paranoid I get.” Conceding on the one hand that the collection, containing “the most famous paintings of the Uffizi to an archive of South Korean film to virtual galleries of the pyramids,” is impressive, Ms. Dowd also pointed out questions that have been posed elsewhere about whether the “project will lead to people prowling museums from the comfort of their couch, filtering and missing out on actual visits.” Copyright concerns have also been raised, as the Washington Post reported last year, saying, as with Google’s Books project, “Google’s grand cultural efforts have been dogged by suspicion and property-rights claims.”

And, lest any area of the arts think that this couldn’t apply to them, take heed. Just two months ago, a Wall Street Journal article said the Google Cultural Institute proved that “practicing—or buying a ticket” are no longer the only ways to get to Carnegie Hall, or to more than 60 other performing arts venues around the world. Now, you can go virtually to meet famous performers, get a backstage tour, and even “be thrust in the middle of the action.”

Really, with all this, how will we find time to actually go anywhere that isn’t virtual? Except maybe the gym, until Google finds an armchair solution to burning calories…and that can’t be far off.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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One Million Children Forced from School by Boko Haram

Nigerian Lives Matter / Garry Knight

Nigerian Lives Matter / Garry Knight

Attacks by Islamist military group Boko Haram have “forced more than 1 million children to abandon their studies and closed at least 2,000 schools in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries,” according to Bloomberg News. Neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger are also now experiencing violence as well.

In a story this week following a UNICEF report, Bloomberg News said, “Schools have been hit by attacks as Boko Haram, which means, ‘Western education is a sin’ in the Hausa language, pursues a six-year-old campaign to establish its version of Islamic law in the region.”

Boko Haram gained world attention last year following the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls—most of whom still have not been found—from their dormitories in the town of Chibok, which sparked the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign championed by Michelle Obama and thousands of others. Most of the girls haven’t been found. Associated Press reports that overall, “Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed about 20,000 people and displaced 2.3 million, according to Amnesty International and the United Nations.”

Since starting its war on the Nigerian government in 2009, “Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted schools, students and teachers,” reports The Guardian. Further, the New York Times adds that while “hundreds of schools in northeastern Nigeria have reopened in recent months…many classrooms are overcrowded or are used as shelter for those displaced.” Security continues to be a challenge; the instability has kept teachers from returning to class, given that as many as 600 teachers have been killed during the six-year insurgency.

“Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s regional director in West and Central Africa, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups.” In fact, the Bloomberg story said, “In Nigeria, 10.5 million children are out of school,” making it the highest in the world.

And there are increasing fears lack of education will fuel further radicalism. Yan St-Pierre, terrorism analyst at Modern Security Consulting Group in Berlin, said, “There was already a problem with getting kids to school on a regular basis that simply became worse once Boko Haram emerged.”

Between bloody raids and incessant suicide bombings, Boko Haram has severely damaged what little infrastructure existed in Nigeria’s impoverished northeast at a time when the commodity-dependent country is facing a cash crunch thanks to plunging oil prices. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had given the military there a December deadline to beat back the group. But, according to the site Foreign Policy, “Even with some assistance from the United States, United Kingdom, and France, that goal looks increasingly unrealistic. A multi-regional military task force has dismantled some of the group’s strongholds, forcing the extremists to rely on asymmetric tactics. Those attacks, in turn, are increasingly involving children.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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