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September 14, 2013
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Have you seen this Journal yet? The Liberation of Masterpieces as Open Content announces a dramatic shift in the role of museums and in the migration of fine art collections to the Internet.

In the words of the J.Paul Getty Museum:  “The Getty makes available, without charge, all available digital images to which the Getty holds the rights or that are in the public domain to be used for any purpose. No permission is required.”

In the mid-1990’s just before the Getty Museum opened its world-class Brentwood campus, high above Los Angeles and designed to impress by Richard Meier, I was asked to meet with a senior executive who had just been recruited to the Getty staff from a posting back east with another prominent museum. 

The meeting did not go well.  The chemistry could not have been worse.  The executive was an embodiment of east coast and Ivy League entitlement and snobbishness and made numerous comments to the effect that the Getty intended to bring to Los Angeles a higher caliber of museum people and professionals than the local province could muster from its own.

Towards the end of the conversation I cracked, even though the thought of working with the Getty was amazingly exciting to me.  I thought there must be reasons J. Paul Getty decided to put his first museum in Malibu, California and the Trust headquarters in Los Angeles.  One of them could have been to get away from folks like the executive facing me across the table in the beautiful, soaring, glaringly white and nearly empty cafeteria building that afternoon.

I turned provocateur. I challenged the executive and the Getty’s commitment to the public.  They had placed the museum in the wealthiest neighborhood in Los Angeles at the top of a mountain so the campus could be reached only by private tramcar.  There was virtually no public transit to the bottom of the mountain which itself was at least 30 minutes drive from any middle class neighborhood and more from lower income areas of the region.  Because of parking restrictions, attendance was so limited in the first year of operations that reservations were required weeks if not months in advance.

 “What would you have us do now after spending hundreds of millions on the facility?” the executive said.

 “Release the entire collection of art held by the Getty Museum in high definition digital scans so the public all over the world could see the works closer and more intimately than  even a visit to the museum would offer,” I said. 

 “That’s ridiculous.  People would steal the art for all kinds of terrible things.  Some kid in South Central [a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles] would start to sell T-Shirts with the van Gogh Irises and we wouldn’t be able to stop it!”

 To which I replied: ”Isn’t the whole point to let that kid, if you can reach him, interact in some way with the Irises?”

 “You obviously do not understand the quality of our responsibility to safeguard and protect the works under our care and possession” was the answer. I went down in Technicolor flames.  The lunchtime skirmish was over.

I deserve no credit for the Getty almost 15 years later taking a step that we should hope every other major museum in the world takes as well.  The Open Source community, Wikipedia, developing standards among archivists and thousands of activists interested in the liberation of the public domain for the benefit of advancing world culture have pushed this issue forward to the point where The Getty felt supported and validated by its decision.

It is still a gutsy move for the Museum and for the Trust.  I could not be happier.  And maybe some liberating California sunshine paid off for J. Paul Getty’s legacy after all.

May a thousand Irises bloom in Somalia, Chile, the Ukraine, in Bombay, Jordan, Norway, Indonesia, and in South Central, Los Angeles on as many T-shirts as someone can make and sell.

As one of the comments to the Journal said about the Getty: “… this whole move is mad cool of them, yo.”…

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djailledie Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I don't see everyday news like that. The victories are often those of the few who already have the power against the majority who has to fold. I hope that other museum will be inspired by this! 
makepictures Featured By Owner Oct 15, 2013
And Getty just added more than 5,000 additional extraordinary images to the Open Content program:…
djailledie Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
makepictures Featured By Owner Oct 17, 2013
Has the Louvre followed?
djailledie Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Not that I know of! They have done a smart move though (or at least something less stupid than what they were doing before). In a very centralized country like France, in the past, only Paris would matter. The Louvre - despite it is huge - can only showcase about 10% of the pieces it owns, so 90% was stored before. Now, they have decided to open other non-Parisian locations - Lens, a medium-size town in the north of France, and Dubai (work in progress). 
makepictures Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2013
Yes, some other major museums are doing the same.  The Tate in London, by contrast, has decided instead to reach out through the Web, although they are having some growing pains figuring out how.
Ayame-Kenoshi Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2013
This is a mad cool journal, yo. 8-)
makepictures Featured By Owner Sep 17, 2013
Thanks Toby.  We miss you terribly!
KovoWolf Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2013  Professional General Artist
makepictures Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2013
right back at you.
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