In times of adversity, we look to art to give form to chaos. But where do you go when the chaos keeps you from art entirely? It will have to be online. As the coronavirus pandemic stretches into yet another month, keeping arts institutions closed across the globe, museums’ websites are now posting traffic numbers that were once unimaginable.
The Musée du Louvre in Paris has reported a tenfold increase in web traffic, from 40,000 to 400,000 visitors per day. Visits to the websites of the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London are also up by huge multiples. Audiences are seeking out arts material for children — the Metropolitan Museum of Art reports an elevenfold uptick to #MetKids, its youth education initiative. Remember just a decade ago, when the Met raised hackles, within and beyond its walls, for its ambitious digitization initiative, as if it were dangerous to offer more than 400,000 high-resolution, free-to-download images of the collection? No one’s saying that now.
When cultural institutions shut in China, then Italy, and then the rest of the world, museum boosters blew the dust off a digital project some of us had forgotten: Google’s Arts & Culture initiative, which promises virtual experiences of the world’s great galleries with the same 360-degree views familiar from its Maps application. (The effort is not wholly altruistic: Google’s culture division, based in Paris and part of a nonprofit arm of its parent, Alphabet, constitutes a big part of a major “soft lobbying” effort to endear the search giant to European antitrust regulators.)
Today, some museums in China have reopened, and in May, Germany and different international locations the place infections have waned will comply with. American ones could also be closed for months extra, and are already going through excessive finances shortfalls.
If this disaster teaches them that digital programming can’t be uncared for, it may also instruct them in regard to the accomplishments that may come from necessity. Throw away your VR desires, spend $100 on a microphone and a gimbal, hit the file button in your smartphone, and converse on to us.