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A Guide to Openly Accessible Media and Streaming Video Content (January 2021): Art and Humanities

by Susan Ariew, LeEtta Schmidt, and Matt Torrence

Art and Humanities

Museums and cultural-heritage institutions have increasingly been establishing an online presence so they can share collections previously available only to visitors to the physical site. Collections may include still imagery, documentation, 360-degree tours, video, and audio.  These online resources may include materials that re-create a visit to a gallery or provide a discussion with a curator, a workshop, or a performance. Their offerings are pertinent to a variety of disciplines, including those outside the humanities.

Numerous British museums can be visited via virtual tour. The National Gallery (London) offers a collection of tours created through various partnerships. In 2016 the National Gallery teamed with Google to create a 360-degree virtual tour of six exhibit rooms, and then worked with Oculus to create a virtual reality, 360-degree tour of the Sainsbury Wing. The Sainsbury Wing tour can be viewed in a browser, like most of the other tours discussed, or with a VR headset. The most recently added virtual tour, requiring Adobe Flash, includes 18 rooms and connects with the museum’s collection information pages to provide more in-depth data on the artworks. Google is a major player when it comes to digital resources, and both the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, London, offer virtual tours that were made in partnership with Google Arts & Culture (discussed below) and can be accessed via any web browser.

Louvre Online Tours offers seven 360-degree tours, including tours of changing exhibits of the Petite Galerie, Egyptian Antiquities, Medieval Louvre, and Decorative Arts. As users move through the exhibits, they can take advantage of a magnifying glass icon that allows them to take a closer look at the artwork and an information symbol that provides artwork information and background in French. 

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History offers a 360-degree virtual tour that allows the viewer to navigate via floor map, room, and display case. The 3D scan was made at a resolution that makes it possible to read the exhibit information cards when zoomed. The tour works in any browser and is compatible with VR headsets. Virtual tours of the Vatican Museums, Rome, include 360-degree digital re-creations of 13 rooms, including the Sistine Chapel, Raphael’s rooms, and the Profane Museum. Using the navigation bar near the bottom of the screen, museum visitors can also access a 360-degree virtual tour of the Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis archaeological area and a selection of image viewers detailing masterpieces in the museums’ collections, including artwork held at the Ethnological Museum, the Pinacoteca, the Gregorian Egyptian Museum, and the Georgian Etruscan Museum.

Many museums have partnered with Google’s nonprofit Google Arts & Culture to create online portals for visitors from all over the world. Among the many museums that are accessible through Google Arts & Culture are the Musea de Arte de Sao Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (Brazil), the Rijks Museum (Netherlands), the J.  Museum (Los Angeles), and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (Seoul), the last which offers a virtual simulation of the museum’s four branches (Gwacheon, Deoksugung, Seoul, and Cheongju). Google’s terms and conditions govern Google Arts & Culture sites, and the available virtual experiences are not uniformly or obviously shared with any open license, so any reuse of material shared via these gateways and individual institutions must abide by intellectual property laws. As such, these Google Arts & Culture sites would not be considered true Open Access materials or Open Educational Resources.  However, they are all freely accessible online and can be linked to in order to supplement instructional activities and experiences.

Open Heritage is a division of Google Arts & Culture, but is not subject to Google’s terms and conditions. All project data on Open Heritage is OA, and so free of most copyright and licensing restrictions on reuse and sharing. Open Heritage provides 3D model projects of cultural heritage sites and iconic monuments. These projects may include guided virtual tours, interviews with 3D imaging experts, and other relevant video. More than fifty heritage sites and monuments have been scanned, including, for example, the pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu. All project materials on Open Heritage can be downloaded.

Another valuable museum and heritage institution virtual portal is HistoryView VR, which has partnered with museums, art galleries, historical heritage sites, and schools to create virtual tours and field trips that can be experienced with VR headsets or via a web browser. This searchable website includes film and video tours collected from YouTube, interactive 360-degree tours of cultural institutions and parks, and 3D visualizations of historical landmarks captured in time or reimagined from the past. A helpful interactive map on the home page allows for easy geographic searching