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How Google Cultural Institute wants to help digitise India’s cultural heritage

Google Cultural Institute has present in India since 2012

Written by Shruti Dhapola | New Delhi |
August 27, 2015 6:15:47 pm
Google, Google Cultural Institute, Google Cultural Institute website, Google exhibitions, Google Mobile apps for Art, Google Art, Google Art projects, Technology, technology news (L to R) Amit Sood, Director, Google Cultural Institute, Dr. Mahesh Sharma – Minister of Culture, Government of India and Rajan Anandan – Vice President & Managing Director, Google, South East Asia & India.

Google’s Cultural Institute today announced 10 new partners in India as part of its efforts to digitise the country’s cultural heritage and make it available online. The search-giant also announced that it would help these partners create their own smartphone apps.

Minister of State of Tourism and Culture (Independent Charge) and Civil Aviation Dr Mahesh Sharma, and Google’s Vice President and Managing Director for South East Asia and India Rajan Anadan were also present at the announcement.

“Google Cultural Institute only works with non-profit groups. What we are offering is investment via digitisation, tools. We come in and give collection management systems for free, story-telling tools,” says Amit Sood, Director for Google Cultural Institute.

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Google Cultural Institute has present in India since 2012, and works with government bodies like the National Museum in Delhi, NGMA in Mumbai and other non-profit organisations, foundations.

The new collection also includes 26 new virtual tours of sites such as the Ekattarso Mahadeva Temple and the royal saloon that once was part of the Palace on Wheels. Google deploys its own Street View Tech to help create these virtual tours. The exhibitions, which are a part of Google Cultural Institute, are accessible via the google.com/culturalinstitute and are curated by experts from within the foundation.

Google says that with the Cultural Institute, the idea is not to remain restricted to art or monuments but also explore other facets of what constitutes as culture in India.

Google, Google Cultural Institute, Google Cultural Institute website, Google exhibitions, Google Mobile apps for Art, Google Art, Google Art projects, Technology, technology news Google’s Cultural Institute Website.

“In the past, we were associated with doing mostly things around art with the NGMA and National Museum. Today we are taking that conversation further by focusing more on intangible culture,” he said. “We intentionally decided to spread the resources and that’s we focused on intangible heritage like Yoga, Jewellery, Crafts.”

For instance, Google has an exhibition on yoga guru BK Iyengar in collaboration with Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute on its site. Also available online is an exhibition on Jewellery, earlier shown at the National Museum in Delhi and another one on Music in India, which includes recordings from Hindustani Music, Carnatic music, etc.

Some of the exhibitions shown on the Cultural Institute website have in fact never taken place in a physical space. “They are only digital, because resources are not available to the foundations. An actual exhibition can cost a lot of money, so why not use tools like this to publish a new exhibition every week, because it is free,” points out Sood.

Where mobile apps go, Sood says the idea was to minimise the tech overload for the museums. “We had to keep in mind that some of the curators, we are working with might not be very tech-savy, ” he points out.

The interface for creating an app is simple, and curators can come in drag, drop create the content. Then Google generates the applications for the organisation. The apps created with the help of Google Cultural Institute platform bear no Google branding. Instead they are wholly managed by the institute or organisation. Dastkaari Haat Samiti, Devi Art Foundation, Heritage Transport Museum and Kalakriti Archives are some organisations that launched mobile apps as a result of this collaboration.

So what next for Google Cultural Institute? The merging of art with virtual reality via Google Cardboard, does not sound very far-fetched, as Google gave a glimpse of how it plans to use VR in educational purposes at its I/O conference this year in May. But Sood refuses to spill the beans on that, only saying that where virtual reality and art go, there will be more to discuss next year.

For now, he says digitising India’s cultural heritage is a long way to go. “We have countries where we’ve done 80 museums, 90 museums, so for me in India this is just the start. We are nowhere close to capturing Indian heritage and culture.”

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