There’s a beautiful set of murals in Rio de Janeiro, a set of photorealist eyes staring at the camera. In the Chinese city of Bozhou Shi, a boy and girl share a kiss while break dancing. And in a sea of sand near Cape Town, a graffitied wall sits off-kilter, bright pink writing scrawled across its side in stark contrast to the surrounding lack of colour.
I’m seeing all of this in just a few clicks, never once leaving my chair.
The Google Street Art Project is an ongoing attempt to document and preserve pictures of street art around the world in an easily-accessible and easy-to-navigate database for street art enthusiasts. Started in Google’s Parisian division, the Google Cultural Institute, the database is a unique extension of the Maps project, using the company’s wide-ranging and extensive photos of the world to also identify and preserve street art.
As many of us know, the world of street art is at once beautiful and fleeting. The threat of having something painted over in plain white, or washed away, or re-zoned, is at once exciting and threatening. Many of the most beloved pieces in the world, including most of the City of L.A., have lost great pieces of street art to the world of bylaws and grumpy people. Google, it seems, is attempting to counteract these notions with the permanence of the internet.
The database uses a combination of professional photography and images taken with the same tech used for Google Maps to showcase street art from around the world, from Google’s hometown of San Fransisco to the cold plains of Mongolia. The app itself is surprisingly easy to use and, best of all, constantly growing. As of writing this, there appears to be over 10,000 entries, with more being added everyday. Those who want their pieces added do have to walk through some hoops, Google isn’t entirely ready to simply track every spray-can accident on the planet. Groups must supply proof of legal rights to the piece and refrain from including pieces that are planning on being sold at art galleries. But with each instance, the art is included with as much respect to the artist and the art community as it seems possible.
The Google Street Art Project is more than simply a database of street art, something that other companies have been doing for awhile (the Red Bull maps come immediately to mind). Google’s size and influence makes this a political stance erring on the side of artistic expression. As lawmakers still try to debate street art as vandalism, Google is pouring money into a project that will keep many beautiful pieces preserved for art lovers. So while the mural or installation may vanish with time and bureaucracy, the art itself can stay with us, safe and sound and beautifully captured on Google Street Art.