There was quite a bit of media buzz the other week when it was revealed that the venerable Smithsonian of Washington DC has been digitizing and 3D printing some of their famous works. Imaged is the famous statue of second US president Thomas Jefferson that was scanned & modeled by Studio EIS and 3D printed using 3D print service RedEye on Demand.
Why are they doing this? Perhaps it's because the museum has bazillions of items and can only display a fraction of them in their limited (yet still gigantic) physical galleries. By cloning some of their holdings they'll be able to more easily "loan" the items to other galleries, enabling far more people to enjoy the pieces.
It appears that they're doing only institutional lending at this time, although we sense some interest in scanning more of their holdings.
But what if they broadened this approach, beyond institutional lending? What if you were able to purchase and/or print such 3D models at home? We think this is is like have a kind of "distributed gift shop", where people could reproduce those works that most please them in their own home. Obviously some attention needs to be spent on the intellectual property aspects of this idea, but we think simply stamping the reproductions with watermarks, dumbing down the resolution somewhat and pricing them reasonably could be effective.
Maybe someday you'll be able to print your own museum!