In 2015 the Hong Kong Maritime Museum joined a group of eight public and private museums in Hong Kong offering the public a new and exciting way to access the Hong Kong’s cultural patrimony from the comfort of their homes.
For the first time, anyone with an internet connection was able to explore collections held by some of Hong Kong’s most important collections through the Google Cultural Institute (GCI). The Maritime Museum along with the West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong Museum of Medical History and St. James’ Settlement joined existing partners, Hong Kong Maritime Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Pok Fu Lam Villa Cultural Landscape Conservation Group, and the Art Research Institute in the second stage rollout of the GCI Hong Kong project.
In 2011, the Google Art Project launched as an international collaboration with 17 of the world’s most famous museums including the Tate Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Uffizi. Today, the Google Cultural Institute and its (now) subsidiary Google Art Project have created a platform providing unparalleled access to more than 6 million works of art, historical moment and artefacts, virtual exhibitions, and ‘street-view’ access to museums and significant sites. Driven by Google’s search algorithm, the site allows visitors to bring together in user-created ‘collections’ works of art held in collections which are thousands of miles apart. For a small museum like the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, such an initiative provides a unique opportunity not only to showcase treasures from our collection to a global audience, but also the chance to participate on a par with museums that have global name recognition.
Important step to full digitisation
The process from the initial approach to the launch of HKMM’s presence on the GCI website was around 2 years, during which the Museum team was well-supported by Google’s local Hong Kong offices, who also provided training to HKMM staff on the use of the platform. On HKMM’s GCI site, there are now more than 200 objects from the collection. And although this is a small portion of the Museum’s holdings, it serves as an important step along the way to full digitisation. The objects were selected to complement the Museum’s catalogue and include objects from a range of time periods and materials, and include both pieces on display in the permanent galleries and those in storage.
Approximately 80 ‘two-dimensional’ objects such as works on paper, textiles, paintings, and photographs, were scanned by Google on-site at no cost to the Museum, while sculptures, ceramics and other ‘three-dimensional’ objects were photographed and uploaded by the Museum staff onto the online platform. Museum staff completed an object record form for each object, the universal template which allows GCI user searches to return objects from all participating museums, although it is not possible to restrict object searches to a single institution. A Google Street View-style tour of the Museum’s permanent galleries also features on the Museum’s GCI page, and is also accessible via a Google Map search.
Once the scanning and uploading was complete, the Museum was able to produce a series of virtual exhibitions, including two which featured content available only temporarily as part of the Museum’s temporary exhibition programme. The GCI therefore provided both an outlet for interpretation and learning, and also an archival platform where temporary exhibitions could be made available to the public in a sustainable and long-term way.
In future, HKMM plans to continue producing virtual exhibitions to compliment both its exhibition programme and to meet the needs of its audiences. The user-friendly interface means that content can be added and modified easily, and provides the Museum an inexpensive and straightforward way to respond to the needs and interests of its audiences as we become aware of them. While the importance of seeing original objects in person to support learning and to help forge a connection with the past cannot be overstated, the GCI creates a unique cultural and heritage landscape supporting HKMM’s key educational mission, to support users as they create, discover and have fun!
Dr Dominique Bouchard, Head of Education and Public Programmes
Phoebe Tong, Assistant Curator
Hong Kong Maritime Museum