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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Facebook Pulls Philadelphia Museum Post: 1960s Art Too “Suggestive”

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The Philadelphia Museum of Art got a surprise earlier this week when its Facebook post promoting their upcoming exhibition of Pop Art from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s was deemed inappropriate. The offending image was of Ice Cream, painted by pop artist, Evelyne Axell in 1964. The museum said the reason given for removal was because it contained “excessive amounts of skin or suggestive content.”

Philadelphia Magazine reported that the painting was on loan to the PMA from the Collection of Serge Goisse in Belgium. The museum’s associate curator, Erica Battle, told the magazine, “We chose this work by Evelyne Axell as one of our keystone marketing images because it speaks to so many themes found throughout Pop: consumption, pleasure, and seduction.”

According to Norman Keyes, communications director for the art museum, who is quoted in the online newspaper, Metro, “‘International Pop’ features paintings, sculptures, assemblages, installations, prints and films by 80 artists, drawn from both public and private collections from around the world.”

The painting, depicting a woman licking an ice cream cone, is by one of the first female Pop artists, whose work, according to a Philadelphia Museum Tumblr post, “can be understood as a critique of mainstream Pop Art, in which women were often depicted as passive, decorative objects. In contrast, Axell sought to depict active, confident women who pursue satisfaction on their own terms—such as the protagonist of Ice Cream, who unabashedly enjoys her dessert.” The image can also be seen on a billboard ad on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia promoting the exhibit.

The painting (and many others) will be on view at the art museum from February 24ththrough May 15th.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

 

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Guards at Boston Museum of Fine Arts Protest More “Militarized” Role

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Museum of Fine Arts – Boston / Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

For the past three weeks, guards who usually serve to protect the treasures of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) have instead been walking the pavement outside. Members of the Museum Independent Security Union (MISU) object to changes that museum officials want to make to reduce flexible scheduling and the coverage they’ve provided inside the galleries to assist patrons and protect the art. According to Hyperallergic.com this week, MISU president Evan Henderson explained the guards’ position saying the proposed changes are “pushing guards out of their positions,” and would “reportedly be less focused on providing artwork protection and guest support within the galleries, and require them to cover shifts in areas of the museum like the attic, offices, or outdoors.”

Henderson was quoted in the Boston Globe saying, “They want us to be more like unlicensed cops, in which we’ll be more militarized…. We’ll be doing, like, drills in the morning. They want us to not focus on the artwork and be able to fight things like active shooters.”

Protecting visitors and property in public venues is increasingly complex, and according to R. Michael Kirchner, chairman of the security committee for the American Alliance of Museums, there’s no single template. “It varies worldwide because of the different size of facilities and resources.” Each museum has its own security challenges and priorities.

Boston MFA’s public relations director Karen Frascona explained the museum’s stance: “In today’s environment, it is critical that our security workforce is prepared to protect our staff, students, volunteers, visitors, and the collection in a variety of situations. Industry-standard training in areas such as emergency preparedness, conflict resolution, and security operations is included in the MFA’s current plan.” But Henderson and the nearly 100 guards who are opposing the changes are concerned the new policies would hinder their ability to aid visitors and provide them with a friendly experience.

According to the Globe article, “Frascona declined to describe details of the MFA’s security system, citing its sensitive nature.” But Steve Keller, a museum security consultant, said, “The MFA is in the forefront of a broader trend among museums to adopt technologically advanced security systems.” Keller added, “The museum uses a predictive video monitoring system that incorporates ceiling-mounted cameras and video analytics to sound an alarm before a person actually touches an artwork.”

He said the MFA’s system goes “beyond what most museums do,” by enabling the museum to statistically analyze audience movement patterns to determine which artworks (and even which parts of an artwork) are vulnerable to damage.

But Henderson and others are not convinced that even such good technology can do the job well. As one guard put it, people don’t always respond correctly to alarms, even when they hear them. Then there’s the personal touch they feel will be lost. Henderson said, “Customer service was a huge aspect of the job. We all take great appreciation in the artwork that we’re around. We’re very knowledgeable.”

He’s quoted in DigBoston, saying, “With the ‘new security model’ and ‘take it or leave it’ schedules, people are being laid off through attrition,” since many work their schedules around childcare or other jobs.

Currently, according to the Globe, “Guards can work shifts of varying lengths. Frascona said the museum was working to standardize the guards’ schedules, creating regular day, evening, and overnight shifts, starting Jan. 3rd.” According to the guards’ current contract, the museum “retains the right to alter the guards’ schedules independent of negotiations.”

In response, Henderson is considering filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. And this Saturday, December 19, the Massachusetts Jobs with Justice coalition is sponsoring a rally from 12 to 2 p.m. to support the guards.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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The Promise of Introducing the Mona Lisa to the Blind

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The Mona Lisa is among the most famous paintings in the world—revered for centuries, owned by emperors and kings, and visited in the Louvre by approximately 6 million people annually. Still, its beauty and impact are diminished for people who cannot see it because of visual impairment. But that may be about to change if either of two crowdfunding campaigns currently on Indiegogo and Kickstarter succeeds.

The one on Indiegogo is a campaign proposed by Unseen Art that’s “raising $30,000 to create a software platform that would allow those without sight to download famous artworks and 3D-print them.”

Founder Marc Dillon has said, “The classical artworks of the world are something we believe everybody should have accessibility to and it should be free. […] So we have to build something in order to do that.”

The notion is to “let artists create 3D interpretations of artworks by scanning a photo of the original, then adding depth and simplifying detail.” Then, anyone with access to a 3D printer could access the file, download, and print.

The project on Kickstarter from the group 3DPhotoWorks is different in that it is looking to fund a much more expensive, commercial platform for use by museums, science centers, and other cultural organizations. They’ve developed and tested “a process called 3D Tactile Fine Art Printing” that is “capable of converting a painting, drawing, photograph or other form of traditional 2D artwork into a 3D printed tactile fine art” as large as five feet by ten feet.

The technology is based on the science of neuroplasticity and inspired by “the work of Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” which shows “that the human brain is capable of processing the tactile information obtained from fingertip contact like it had been obtained from visualization.” In these cases, sensors have been “implemented into the prints, which when touched, give off audio that tells the user what is being shown at that part of the painting.” In that way, their brain can put together a mental picture of what’s in the painting, photograph or drawing.

One aesthetic question raised by this, according to Tech Crunch, is whether “a 3D painting [is] still a painting?” And, in another sense, are the new creations new pieces altogether? Dillon sees this as a differentiation between the two approaches, and describes 3D Tactile Fine Art Printing as “more of a relief style” versus the fully 3D models Unseen Art aims to distribute.” He argues that there’s particular value in the 3D modeling he’s proposing because they found, “there needs to be some depth of touch, and there needs to be some limitation to detail—a perspective on the art, or an impression of the art, for people to really understand it.” Using the Mona Lisa as the best-known example, he says, if you included every bit of detail about the picture, then people aren’t really going to get a lot out of it.

Regardless, Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, in talking about 3DPhotoWorks, stressed the importance of increased accessibility:

Too often people invent ways of describing art to blind people rather than creating authentic means for the blind to perceive visual imagery in nonvisual ways. This technology opens up new avenues for exploration and understanding and will enhance the experience for everyone. This technology also has the potential to allow greater participation by the blind in a wide variety of fields, especially the visual arts and STEM subjects.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Global Initiative to Ensure Women Artists Gain Traction in Museums

The history of women in art has traditionally been about the pieces in the museum or gallery, rather than about the artists who created the art that’s there. That’s because so little of the art is by women, and few women artists have gained the access and the level of acceptance and success their male counterparts have in the male dominated art world.

The work of women artists has been barred, banned, and belittled in past generations, and even now, many would agree, they are significantly underrepresented in public and private collections around the world. In fact, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in Washington, D.C., founded in 1987, still bills itself as “the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to women’s creative contributions.”

But now, Valeria Napoleone, a philanthropist and art collector who has made women’s art the sole focus of her own collection since she began collecting in the early 1990s, has launched a global project in conjunction with the Contemporary Art Society in London and the SculptureCenter in New York to try to help even the score. According to ArtNet News, the new project, entitled “Valeria Napoleone XX,” will “endeavor to increase the number of commissions and number of female artists in public collections.” The first work was a commission by Anthea Hamilton from SculptureCenter in New York.

“The UK project will see a work from a female artist donated to a museum each year,”ArtNet News reports. To qualify for the UK project, institutions have to examine their collections, identify where they lack female artists’ work, and then make a case to be a candidate for the donation. If chosen, the museum will then host a solo show for the female artist. “Institutions who are members of the Contemporary Art Society and interested in the project can apply to the CAS and Napoleone for consideration from April 2016.”

There’s a lot of work to do to achieve parity, as evidenced by stats on the National Museum of Women in the Arts website. They report that while 51 percent of visual artists today are women and women earn half the MFAs granted in the U.S., only a quarter of solo exhibitions in L.A. and New York galleries feature women. In Europe, at the Venice Biennale, the 2009 edition featured 43 percent women, but in 2013 and 2014, the numbers dropped to only 26 percent and 33 percent respectively.

“Museum collections necessarily reflect historical gender imbalances and the 20th and 21st centuries have seen many more female artists achieving international recognition,” said Caroline Douglas, director of Contemporary Art Society. “But there’s still work to do. In joining forces with Valeria Napoleone, we have a unique opportunity to proactively help our Museum Members build collections that accurately reflect the diversity of great work being produced by living artists.”

NMWA’s director, Susan Fisher Sterling, has concurred, saying, “Women in the arts receive more recognition than they used to, but you only have to look at the winter auctions in London to see that we’ve got a long way to go: none of top 100 prices were for pieces by women artists. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with issues that are very entrenched, like those to do with power and money, it takes a long time to see a significant change.”

And then there’s the perception of value, which also needs to change. As Georgia O’Keefe famously said, “The men liked to put me down as the best woman painter. I think I’m one of the best painters.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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