How 3D Scanning and 3D Printing Help Liberate Ownership of Cultural Artifacts

What does it mean to have freedom of cultural and educational opportunity? Better yet, what is the cost of restricting access by physical distance or paid thresholds of the right to embrace cultural diversity?

In a piece by Robert Dex, a conversation illuminates about the meaning and significance of cultural artifacts to particular nations and peoples. In the wake of the calling of museums, such as the British Museum in London, to return artifacts to their countries of origin, we feel the relevance of the localization of culture taking place.

The people’s desire for restitution of art and artifacts from museums is not something new and not particular to any one location. From New York City’s museums of Nazi stolen art, to Emmanual Macron’s call to perminently return artworks to Africa that didn’t belong to France. Further deepened by the intimate calls from the governor of Easter Island begging Britain to return their spiritually significant statue Maoi - a relic many of their indiginous people hadn’t had the privilege of seeing in their lifetime. Pleas that penetrate borders and into the soul of the people who feel the stories of their ancestors may be lost.

These calls to action are the influence and fuel behind the powerful movement of the community led project, Scan the World. The collaborative initiative empowers individuals to use democratized technologies such as 3D scanning and 3D printing to share artifacts and diverse stories of personal heritage online.

Scan the world is about eliminating ownership of physical artifacts while empowering individuals to embrace and understand their identities and stories. The mission goes beyond art and technology. It’s a mission rooted in freedom and purposefulness, the innate values of the organizing platform, MyMiniFactory.

STW - Scan the World - Promo from Lewis Coombes on Vimeo.

The simplicity of photogrammetry, a process of making 3D models from pictures taken on your smartphone or camera, allows more individuals to contribute to the “museum without walls”. When a 3D model is uploaded, anyone, anywhere can download the artifact and print it from their 3D printer at home.

The project, beginning in 2014 has now grown to over 15,500 artifacts, from over 770 cities with contributions from over 1,600 individuals. The most recent expansion to the project is Scan the World India, a community undertaking that combines research with personal heritage, stories and values.

Projects like Scan the World India have become a digital route to see a country and peoples through their own eyes, in their own words. To help individuals to identify or try to understand an otherwise unfamiliar experience and place.

The relocalization of culture is a movement that reminds us of the weight of self-realization. A reminder of the complexity of understanding one’s self when so much of our history is intertwined with that of nations, and wars - lost cultures and dying languages. As individuals how can we begin to understand ourselves when we have not understood the depth and roots of our ancestors, of the people who carved the path that granted us the privilege to move forward.

The openness of the digital archive, forges a path to ensure that ownership is not exclusive to a singular person or group. A reminder that although the significance of heritage lies in the heart, we often long for tangible representations. Here, in Scan the World, we enable the permeating nature of culture and diaspora to be more accessible, seen and heard than ever before.