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Please Touch the Art: 3D Printed Masterworks for the Blind

A group of digital professionals in Finland is on a mission to provide equal access to visual art.
All images courtesy of Unseen Art

Unseen Art wants to give the Mona Lisa and other world-renowned artworks the 3D treatment so that they can be touched, making them accessible to the blind and visually impaired. “There are many people in the world who have heard of classical artworks their whole lives but are unable to see them,” says Marc Dillon, evangelist for the project. “Now they can experience them for the first time and create their own impressions and opinions.”


The project is currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo, offering 3D prints of the Mona Lisa for backers, which can be kept or donated to an organization serving the blind and visually impaired community. The money raised will be used to fund an online platform where the 3D files will be downloadable for free, making 3D printable art available worldwide, anywhere there is a 3D printer. The Mona Lisa is currently the only completed 3D artwork, but a panel of curators will later put together an entire collection. “I am excited to see Impressionism especially, and of course Van Gogh's Starry Night,” writes Dillon in an email to The Creators Project from Helsinki.

“We believe that exhibition-quality works will allow both blind and seeing people to enjoy art in a new way, and will lead the way to getting more donations of pieces. Since all of the art produced will then be available on the website for free, an official exhibition can be downloaded and printed anywhere in the world and have a great positive impact,” he adds.

The project strikes a personal chord with Dillon. “I was born with one arm shorter than the other. All my life, I continually had to prove that I was capable of doing everything I wanted to, from playing guitar and riding motorcycles to lifeguarding and weightlifting. I also had an uncle who worked as a mechanic and became blind in adulthood through glaucoma. I saw he was able to continue to do most anything a seeing person could do.”


Dillon, who previously headed a $2.5 million crowdfunding campaign for the mobile design company Jolla Oy, was hired by Adventure Club to head the Unseen Art Project. The Finnish firm offers digitization services for projects with a social responsibility component, and is donating its time to this initiative. Tommi Niskanen, who heads the creative arm of Adventure Club, first came up with the idea after watching a young blind boy distinguish between two identical swimming medals—simply because one was gold and the other was bronze. The concept for 3D printed art grew from there.

To test the concept, Niskanen and Dillon took their first 3D print to the Blind Institute of Finland. “They were very excited to touch the Mona Lisa!” recalls Dillon. In a promotional video for the project, one can hear a blind woman experiencing da Vinci’s masterpiece through touch. Just like countless others throughout history, she is intrigued by Mona Lisa’s mysterious expression: “It’s a little bit…enigmatic,” she says chuckling. “She wasn’t exactly a classical beauty!”

To learn more about the Unseen Art project, go here.


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