Culture broadens its horizons

Museums, galleries and publishing houses may seem like old-fashioned institutions, but they’ve embraced the digital world.

von Mark Tungate , Adforum

Now many of us are obliged to stay at home again, how will we get our fix of culture? Museums and art galleries are shut; in some cases we can’t even go and browse in our local bookstores. Fortunately, even before the pandemic, cultural institutions had been reaching out virtually with digital innovations and unexpected partnerships.

Back in March, Google Arts & Culture joined forces with over 1,200 museums to provide a one-stop selection of the world’s best virtual museum tours, in high resolution and granular detail. In order to get visitors started, it provided a useful Top Ten list: to discover here.

And by the way, Google Arts & Culture also enables visitors to explore historic sites, including the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramid of Giza.

In France, the Paris city authority and an association of museums, Paris Musées, teamed up to create Muséosphère, a project aimed at children. It allows kids to go on 360° virtual tours of sites such as the writer Victor Hugo’s house and – perhaps more interestingly if you’re a pre-teen – the spooky catacombs.

Cultural institutions in general have become adept at finding digital solutions to challenges. When the Berlin Philharmonic found itself without a chief conductor for the first time in 2018, it staged an extraordinary sculpture exhibition, visible on Instagram as well as in the press, to reassure the audience that this was an opportunity for experimentation rather than despair. 

Similarly, in summer 2019, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam reached out beyond its walls with “Operation Night Watch”, an initiative that enabled the public to watch a live-streamed analysis of Rembrandt’s masterpiece by art restorers. The operation had serious goals – to understand the impact of the passing years on the 1642 painting, and consider solutions for its preservation – but it also brought external viewers into the museum, as well as into the arcane world of art restoration. For those of you who couldn’t make it, here’s a time lapse video of the operation’s debut; and the construction of a protective glass chamber designed by French architect Jean Michel Wilmotte. 

Last year, too, Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco teamed with the Dalí Museum in Florida and used a combination of AI and “deepfake” technology to achieve the impossible – they brought Salvador Dalí back to life. The surprisingly vigorous Salvador was fun to watch online; and visitors could also witness him commenting on his own work via installations at the museum. 

Back to the present – if opera is your thing, never fear: the Metropolitan Opera in New York has been offering streamed and on-demand concerts since the early days of the pandemic. These have attracted “hundreds of thousands” of people, says the Met, which also uses its site to encourage donations.

But what about literature? Publishers have grasped that Instagram is a great way of promoting new titles and getting closer to readers. We’ve been following iconic UK publisher Penguin Books, which allows famous authors like Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) and Harlen Coben (Tell No One) to do “takeovers” of its stream and post snippets from their lives, as well as reading recommendations and tips for aspiring writers. 

Instagram de Penguin Books

We’re also fans of US science fiction and fantasy publisher Orbit, which pairs cocktails with new book releases at its virtual “Orbit Tavern”. If you want to know which cocktail goes best with a book called The Age of Witches, with insights from the author Louisa Morgan at the same time, this is the place.

Instagram d'Orbit

One thing’s for sure, even while self-isolating at home, an entire cultural landscape awaits you at the click of a mouse.