Google’s Paris-based Cultural Institute has recently launched a database called the Street Art Project. This initiative features street art from across the globe, much of which no longer exists. Working alongside various cultural organizations worldwide, and putting to use their very own Street View, the Cultural Institute and subsequent Street Art Project is making these public works increasingly more public, democratizing art, and chronicling it’s contemporary impact for the future. It’s one of those projects that makes Google hard not to love.
The Google Cultural Institute, founded in 2011, is composed of a staff around 30 engineers. It’s a project that’s documenting the physical and bringing it to the web for the public to access. They want users to be able to view the Art Projects, Historical Moments, and World Wonders that have shaped our world, from the comfort of your home. As of now, they’ve already helped create online archives for historic figures, such as Nelson Mandela, or used Street View to provide renderings of World Heritage sites. But what really grabs my attention is the focus they’re placing on graffiti—handling it with the respect and admiration that is traditionally associated with works found in museums or on gallery walls.
“I’m not treating street art as anything different from what I would do with the Impressionist collection I’m getting on Art Project,” said Amit Sood, director of the Cultural Institute. The Street Art Project is sister to the Art Project, another Cultural Institute initiative that has provided technical support to more than 460 museums and helped in bringing their collections to the web for all to see.
The Street Art Project is searchable by artists, city, genre and other categories. Not only does it consist of current art viewable in the public, but it also documents much of which that doesn’t exist anymore. Of the 30 institutions that have furnished the platform with images is the Museum of the City of New York; the Dallas Contemporary; Living Walls: The City Speaks in Atlanta; and the Museum of Street Art in France.
On one side, Google is helping bring street art to a more respectable level. On the other, it’s perpetuating what street art already encompasses, that is public art in the public space. The New York Times encapsulates this in stating, “Google is formalizing what street art fans around the world already do: take pictures of city walls and distribute them on social media.” It’s an effort to make art more available to viewers, a public domain gone more public, and it’s fascinating to see it happen thanks to the developments of technology and the culture-bridging, border-crossing abilities of the internet.
Shepard Fairey stated that, “I’ve always used my street art to democratize art, so it would be philosophically inconsistent for me to protest art democratization through Google.” Street art often comes with a bad rep, where people have a hard time distinguishing it from vandalism.
Lois Stavsky, who runs Street Art NYC says that most artists like the idea of of enabling more people to view their work. Especially the Street Art Project’s potential to preserve work. Take 5Pointz for example, the famous NYC graffiti landmark that was whitewashed last year. Working alongside the Cultural Institute, Stavsky sorted through hundreds of 5Pointz photos to uploaded several to Google’s new platform—making a location available to thousands that otherwise would’ve never had the opportunity to see.
As is expected from a company like Google, the platform itself is designed to utilize the web’s functions and perform smoothly. It’s intuitive and features a bunch of interesting features, from documentaries to dipping into street view to have a look at building’s interiors. Perhaps the most innovative feature is a special camera they used to document certain pieces (such as VHILS who’s famous for sculpting work into walls), allowing users to zoom in and take a closer look in stunning clarity.