A virtual tour of the Malacañang museum

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In a partnership with Google Arts and Culture, the storied halls of Malacañang are given life online through a virtual tour and online exhibition. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “I was hesitant to do this project,” says Edgar Ryan Faustino, the director and head of the Presidential Museum and Library, referring to their partnership with Google Arts and Culture. The trepidation comes from a common anxiety felt when two worlds collide, when technology is seemed poised to make something obsolete. But putting the Malacañang Presidential Museum and Library online isn’t about making the actual museum obsolete; rather, it's about providing a new venue for the institution to reach out to a broader audience.

Malacañang museum The Presidential Musem and Library is located in Malacañang's Kalayaan Hall, originally built in 1921. Photo by JL JAVIER  

Faustino and his team worked closely with Google to mount a virtual tour and an online exhibit highlighting the museum’s treasures. Employing Google’s street view technology, “Malacañang as Prize, Pulpit, and Stage” traces how power comes into play and how it is executed by the presidents who have resided in Malacañang’s hallowed halls. The items on view, like campaign materialss posters featuring crooners to get people’s votes, the chair on which Ferdinand Marcos sat when he declared martial law in 1972, and even a specially created yellow Yamaha piano for Corazon Aquino, are telling of the country’s storied and tumultuous history. These are artefacts that tell how these presidents played a role in shaping our country’s narrative.

Malacañang museum The chair on which Ferdinand Marcos sat when he declared martial law in 1972 on view at an online exhibition on Google Arts and Culture. Screenshot from GOOGLE ARTS AND CULTURE

On the other hand, “Relics of Power: Remembering the Philippine Presidents” is a glimpse into the remarkable collection of artwork that has come into the presidential palace over the years, such as portraits by Fernando Amorsolo, sculptures by Vidal Tampinco, a remarkable oil painting by the Spanish artist Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, and a chalkboard depicting a sketch of Camp Crame and the positions of the reform troops during the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.

This initiative by Google is only six years old and now has over 200,000 artworks and 6 million photos from museums around the world such as Musée d'Orsay, The Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, and Rijksmuseum. In the Philippines, they’ve already worked with seven institutions including the Ayala Museum and the Intramuros Administration. All works by celebrated artists — Van Gogh, Monet, Rembrandt, and even our very own Amorsolo — are available for viewing and studying online and on the Google Arts and Culture app (available both on iTunes and Google Play).

CNN Philippines Life sat down with Google Arts and Culture program manager Pierre Caessa, who flew to Manila to unveil the Malacañang project, and talked about their partnerships with museums, the benefits of being on Google Arts and Culture, and how an online exhibition can spark a renewed interested in the arts. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Malacañang museum Google Arts and Culture program manager Pierre Caessa. Photo by JL JAVIER

What kind of support does Google Arts and Culture give the museums after you finish the project?

What we’re providing to museums once we sign a partnership with them is different technologies that they can use to share different types of things and contents. It can be virtual exhibitions, it can be street views, it can be virtual reality, high resolution digitization of images, [etc.]. Some museums would like to start step-by-step with us and that makes a lot of sense for many different reasons. Maybe they want to first publicize a specific virtual exhibition, and want to give their resources to do such a thing for upcoming exhibits.

So once we launch a museum online, we keep in touch with them because what we want is to do more, of course, and support them in their digital strategies and they way they reach out to new audiences. The most important [part] here is that once we sign the partnership with the museum, we give them access to CMS, a system where they can upload their content. And they can change that anytime they want [to].

Let’s say they didn’t want to put that artwork [anymore], they can just put it away. But if they want to do more, which I think is the best, because I think users want to see more and more online, then they can just do it on their own. They don’t have to tell us, basically.

Malacañang museum

How does Google make sure the data that you get from the museums are used properly?

This is a major topic, data and copyright. What’s important here is to understand that Google has no copyright on any of the content on Google Arts and Culture. These treasures of humanity belong to museums. That means, legally, that they have the copyright, and we trust them to make sure that all the artwork that they put online is copyright cleared. That’s the most critical aspect. That means there’s nothing we can do with those artworks aside from presenting these to the world. Museums are the treasures’ owners, and we are the tech providers that can help them create more momentum about their treasures.

You mentioned that you don’t have exact data of how Google Arts and Culture has helped the cultural institutions so far, but can you share something about how having an online presence on Google Arts and Culture has created an impact for a partner museum?

We have a partnership with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium. We created a digital retrospective of one of the most iconic painters of the Renaissance, Breugel. And we created this with many cool projects and virtual reality and people were really excited about this. What we observed two months after the launch, there was a 30 percent [increase of] visitors [that] came to the museum. That is to me the measure of success, when we are able to convert visitors online into physical visits. That’s really the goal of this project, to bring in more people inside museums and create appetite for arts and culture.

Malacañang museum One of the features of the Presidential Museum and Library is a room dedicated to incumbent president Rodrigo Duterte with memorabilia and materials given to him by his supporters. Photo by JL JAVIER  

Are there shared difficulties that you encounter while working on the projects?

We don’t have always the same way to work. As you know, Google is a young company, it’s like a young adult, and we work with fast processes sometimes, and museums are like centuries-old institutions, which means a lot of responsibilities in the content that they own and preserve. One thing I can mention, it’s not really a difficulty, is the timelines of our work. But we’re used to doing it now, and I hope that they’re happy with [us] for the past six years.

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The Presidential Museum and Library is located at Kalayaan Hall, Jose P. Laurel Street, Malacañang, Manila. Visit the official website or Facebook page for reservations or more details.