Museums Open Doors to the Digital Age
As Government cuts begin to bite and museums and galleries begin to ponder radical solutions, the question of access to culture has become a hot topic.
According to Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, cultural institutions are relying on "a 20th century formula which worked well in the past, may work well now, but probably won't in a decade's time". They need to be leading the way in changing how new technology is used, he said in a recent speech about cultural innovation at the National Theatre.
His statement comes as Google Street View announces a huge collaboration with 17 museums worldwide including the Tate Britain and National Gallery in London and The Museum of Modern Art in New York to allow web users to visit museums from the comfort of their computer.
Mr Vaizey said: "We live today in an age of technology and change that brings huge opportunities to the arts - to engage with new audiences, to interpret objects in ways that tell stories more vividly, to create and distribute work in different ways and to come up with new models of distribution and engagement."
The minister highlighted the Museum Of London's, "brilliant Streetmuseum app", as an example of technology working successfully with the arts.
He said: "Hold up your iPhone in hundreds of different places in London, and historical photos and information are overlaid onto a live image taken from the iPhone's camera. It's fascinating stuff, but certainly not limited just to that museum."
The app was launched in May last year and features more than 7,000 objects, interactive exhibits, films and changing displays from 1666 to the present day.
Nicola Kalimeris from the MoL said: "The Streetmuseum app has been downloaded over 150,000 times by iPhone users. Following its success the Museum of London has launched the app on Android. In the next couple of weeks we are launching Soundtrack to London, our second app."
Mr Vaizey said he wanted to see museums, galleries and theatres at the heart of changes in technology.
He said: "We're at the beginning of a transformation, and we don't know where we'll be at the end.
"Imagine walking into a national museum, holding your camera up to a Holbein and getting the text from the guidebook up on your phone, with a link to a documentary on YouTube and an audio book on iTunes."
The Google Art Project allows visitors to the site to take a virtual tour of the featured museums, clicking on artworks and exhibits to find out more information. A selection of high res images such as Tate Britain's No Woman, No Cry by Chris Ofili can be studied in detail.
More than 1,000 photographs are available and can be built into individual collections by users, allowing them to effectively curate their own exhibitions.
Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota said: "This pioneering collaboration between Google and some of the world's leading arts organisations gives us a taste of the digital future for museums. New technology means we can now take these art works beyond their homes to create the first global art collection.
"Tate is dedicated to reaching new audiences in this way, and our forthcoming website relaunch will make the most of these opportunities"
The Head of Art Project, Google, Amit Sood hopes the initiative will get more people through museum doors.
He said: "Together with our museum partners around the world we have created what we hope will be a fascinating resource for art-lovers, students and casual museum goers alike - inspiring them to one day visit the real thing."
Go to googleartproject.com.
A Personnal Journey:
Taking a stroll around the Tate Britain with Google Art Project is worth the trip.
The ability to view the artwork close up allows for plenty of detail does not try to compete with standing in front of a painting.
The zoom feature on Chris Ofili's, No Woman, No Cry lets you see the tiny images of Stephen Lawrence in the tears but elephant dung cannot readily be replicated on screen.
If, like me, you are heavy handed when navigating with Google Street View, the frustration from continually bumping into walls and missing doors is off-putting but the overall look of the gallery is good. Clicking on the floor plan allows you to move quickly between rooms and the drop down menu will take you straight to a specific piece.
Information about the artist is easily accessible and viewing notes provide potted histories.
This is not going to stop people visiting museums.
It seem more of a resource or taste of what is on offer than an alternative to a day out.
Paying the Price For Many Feet
Free museums may bring the visitors - and their trampling feet - but they have hidden costs.
And so it has proved with the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, which has become a victim of its own success, meaning for the first time in 10 years it will be charging for entry.
The astronomy centre will still be free as will the National Maritime Museum but visitors wanting to see the Meridian Line and Flamsteed House will pay £10.
Spokeswoman Sheryl Twigg said: "The decision is down to the growing popularity of the
Royal Observatory and the wear and tear this brings. Since moving to free entry in 2001, visitor numbers have increased four-fold to 1.6million for which it was never designed."
The one-off fee will allow ticket holders to return as many times as they wish over the year.
Sheryl said: "The Royal Observatory is a very significant international heritage site and many heritage sites already charge. The observatory has been more the exception than the rule."
The revenue generated is also needed to fulfil a long-term plan to modernise the museum.
Sheryl said: "The museum is involved in ongoing developments to update all of its facilities after a prolonged period of limited investment in these areas."
She said she did not expect visitor numbers would be affected.
On the other end of the argument, the Museum of London Docklands went for visitors over money when in April last year it dropped its £5 entry charge.
Vicky Lee from museum said: "From when we introduced free entry to December, we saw a year on year increase of 93 per cent. Visitor numbers peaked in August at 186 per cent. Numbers went from 9,397 in August 2009 to 26,905 in August 2010."
Free entry to national museums in Britain was reintroduced in 2001 and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has reported a rise of 128 per cent in visits. In London that figure is 135 per cent.
The Royal Observatory's permanent price change takes effect from March 8. Children under 15 will still be free.