After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, Lin-Manuel Miranda emerged as a key figure in the island’s recovery efforts. Earlier this year, for instance, he organized (and starred in) a 17-day San Juan run of the smash-hit Broadway musical Hamilton, raising nearly $15 million for a fund that seeks to reinvigorate Puerto Rico’s art scene. Now, Claire Selvin reports for ARTnews, Miranda and his father, Luis Miranda Jr., have partnered with Google Arts and Culture for a new digitization project aimed at archiving art housed in major Puerto Rican museums.
The collaboration launched last week with more than 350 digitized works of art. Thousands more will be added in the coming months. The works were sourced from institutions including Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP), Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico, Museo de Arte de Ponce and Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.
The digitization project strives to both introduce a wider audience to the art of Puerto Rico and ensure that there is a space for the island’s precious cultural works to be seen and enjoyed.
Since the ICP closed its national gallery in 2013, explains executive director Carlos R. Ruiz Cortés, the museum’s collections have lacked a permanent display space, instead going on view solely through “limited museum loans, institutional exhibitions, educational tours and academic research.”
As Joseph B. Treaster points out for the New York Times, Hurricane Maria also highlighted the challenges of keeping cultural treasures safe in an unpredictable tropical climate—and underscored the importance of preserving the island’s artworks for generations to come.
“Bringing Puerto Rican art into global focus has been a personal passion of Lin’s for years, but the urgency was heightened post-Hurricane Maria,” the team explains in a statement quoted by Mashable’s Natasha Pinon. “The project comes at an important time: [D]ue to budget cuts and storage limitations, some of the art being digitized is not currently on view, even to Puerto Ricans.”
Among the highlights of the newly digitized collection is The Daughters of Governor Ramón de Castro by José Campeche y Jordán, the son of a slave who became the 18th century’s “most significant Puerto Rican painter of portraits and religious imagery,” according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Google Arts and Culture users can also view The Judge, a 1970 print by Myrna Báez, one of Puerto Rico’s most prominent contemporary artists.
Google’s Art Camera, which was sent to Puerto Rico for the first time as part of the project, scanned dozens of artworks in high resolution. Viewers can now zoom in on works like Goyita, a 1953 oil painting by painter and printmaker Rafael Tufiño Figueroa that depicts the artist’s mother. According to Cortés, the camera captures details unseen by the naked eye, helping experts gain new insights on iconic works of art.
For the first time, staff at the ICP were able to spot a signature on Visión de San Felipe Benicio, a 19th-century painting by female artist Consuelo Peralta de Riego Pica. New details also emerged in Jordán’s El Gobernador Don Miguel Antonio de Ustáriz, a portrait with a lively street scene hidden in its background. Zoom in to see women peering down from a balcony, perhaps flirting with the workers below.
Although it is now possible to become acquainted with these and other Puerto Rican artworks from the comfort of your home, the project seeks to inspire visitors’ interest in experiencing the island’s culture firsthand.
“We hope that the world will get a glimpse of the art treasures of Puerto Rico,” Miranda said during a launch event in San Juan, according to Quartz’s Anne Quito, “and then come visit them.”