Saturday, May 12, 2012

AGO stakes Canada's first claim on Google Art

Jessica Chin |

A new online gallery allows users to browse art collections from various galleries and museums around the world. (Courtesy Art Gallery of Ontario)



Experiencing art is not just about visiting a building full of paintings and sculptures anymore. Gallery and museum directors are finding new and innovative ways of using the Internet to get the public connected to the art world.

Social media has sparked discussion across different communities through the web, and for Art Gallery of Ontario IT and new media director Virginia Vuleta, moving art to the online world creates a different kind of conversation about art.

The AGO has joined forces with the Google Art project ( as the only Canadian gallery to participate in the online initiative.

The project is an online gallery experience that allows users to browse art collections from various galleries and museums around the world. By visiting the Google Art project, users can view slideshows of gallery collections on their web browser.

Following its initial launch last year, Version 2 of the Google Art project launched Tuesday with 151 gallery partners from 40 different countries.

Once users have signed in with their Google account, they can take virtual tours of galleries and museums, and find information about posted artwork.

They can also select works they like or upload their own content to create unique visual collections.

More than 50 pieces from the Toronto-based AGO's collection are included in the project.

Vuleta said the online collection creates "something different" for users.

"The online experience allows for both a broader audience and a continued conversation - conversation can go on for hours or days or weeks…there's more longevity and greater context and possibly greater depth," Vuleta said.

"It is [the AGO's] mandate to create experiences for all of our audiences, whether they're in the physical gallery or online."

Google spokesperson Wendy Rozeluk said the online project allows for "discoverability."

"I may build a collection with a piece from Emily Carr, for example, and start to discover pieces Emily Carr may have," she said.

Rozeluk said the uses for Google Art go beyond sharing what users like: the project also lends itself well to education.

"As a teacher of art, you may want to build collections to fit in with your curriculum as you build discussion and engage with your students," she said.

"We're the experts in technology, and that's why we want to work with the experts in the art community to build a unique experience."

While the AGO is currently the only Canadian gallery involved in the Google Art project, other Canadian museums and galleries have explored digital options and expanded their use of social media.

Various museums across Canada have launched apps for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad designed to accompany visitors to the museums while providing information about pieces throughout the exhibits.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization, the War Museum, the McCord Museum, the AGO, and the Royal Ontario Museum are just some of the attractions to have free iOS apps available for download.

Other museums, such as the Nova Scotia Museum and the Museum of Vancouver, regularly post content on Twitter and Facebook.

Through social media, they post pictures of and information about their exhibitions. They also engage visitors by asking questions about their interests.

Other galleries like the Richmond Art Gallery in British Columbia operate mixed-media blogs through Tumblr, a short-form blogging site that allows users to network with each other and share multimedia content.

Lifestyle website released a list of its top 10 museum Tumblogs, or Tumblr websites. On that list was the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) Tumblog.

The CUAG landed itself on the list for a Tumblog that contains pictures of its collections and information about events.

The gallery's education and outreach assistant, Fiona Wright, said the museum is exploring the "digitization" of its collection.

"In the twenty-first century, this is going to be a really important part of how galleries get people into their spaces and seeing art, and getting them excited about what's going on in different museums and galleries," she said.

Maintaining an active presence on the web allows galleries and museums to reach out to audiences, and Vuleta said the Google Art project opens up a "tremendous opportunity" for art institutions.

"Technology plays an important role in being able to connect people with collections when they're not in the physical space," she said.

Vuleta added that she hopes the project will increase visits to the AGO.

"People are using these sites to engage their interests in particular artists or prepare for a visit to the gallery," she said.

"They're becoming an adjunct to the visit to the physical gallery, not a replacement."

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