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Visual & Design Arts

Journey to int'l art museums

The potential impact might not be so farfetched: In a matter of several years, Google Art Project could have the type of effect on the international art museum world and cultural literacy comparable to what “googling” has meant for Internet searchers – a greater access to information and broader understanding of the connection among cultures.

In mid April, the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) joined a list of many of the most renowned international art museums participating in the Google Art Project, an online virtual journey to a front-row seat to some of the most fascinating artworks in the world.  The project, which was launched two years ago, has grown from about a dozen museums to more than 150 museums in 40 countries. More than 40,000 high-resolution objects are available to be viewed.

At the gathering, UMMA Director Joseph Rosa was joined by Mike Miller, a U-M graduate, who is head of Ann Arbor, Google. Rosa and Miller demonstrated the current online features of the Google Art Project, and discussed the potential for increasing the popularity of art, visitation at art museums and elevating the discussion about art history and the visual arts.

Rep. John Dingell, who represents Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, was also in attendance. Dingell sponsors an annual art competition for high school students, and serves on the House Committee for Energy and Commerce. He is also an outspoken advocate for improving cultural literacy in K-12 education.

“The Google Art Project is very important to us,” said Rosa. “We serve as a cultural nexus for the University, but we also understand our global responsibility in making the arts accessible to the masses. Not to negate the value of seeing a work of art in person, but we believe that it is just as important to interact with this visually literate generation in the digital space as well.

“We see value in both visitors to our museum, and to our website and online collections; it is an opportunity to allow for students and educators to make connections and interpret art without physical barriers,” he said.

UMMA is among the first group of American university art museums to participate in the project, joining Yale University, Princeton University, Rutgers University and University of Texas. Featured art museums include Tate Gallery, London, England; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Uffizi, Florence, Italy; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; White House, Washington, D.C.;  Australian Rock Art Gallery at Griffith University, Brisbane; Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar; and, Hong Kong Museum of Art.


Curators selected 60 images from UMMA’s collection, which collectively reflect the expansive range of the museum’s encyclopedic collection, including works from Claude Monet, James Abbott Whistler, Eastman Johnson, Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri), Tiffany and Hosoda Eishi. UMMA has more than 19,000 objects, including artwork from artists in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe.

The Google Art Project aims to increase the popularity and accessibility to art museums at a time when many museums are struggling financially. Generally, revenue is derived from attendance along with public support and private fundraising. At UMMA, revenue is generated through annual allocations from the university’s general budget, fundraising and earned income. There is no admission charge to the museum.

Further, the ease in which to access the Google Art Project provides K-12 teachers with a valuable tool for teaching art history, said Rosa. Annually, about 5,000 K-12 students visit UMMA, and the museum’s education department provide tours and outreach to a range of pubic, private and charter schools.

University of Michigan Museum of Art, 525 South State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.
Phone: 734.764.0395
Summer hours (May–August): Galleries open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 12 p.m. – 5 p.m; closed Mondays. The Forum, Commons, and selected public spaces in the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing are open 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily. Admission is free.

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