3D models produced during the Met's hackathon with Makerbot 1 June 2012

Metropolitan Museum of Art, US

Oonagh Murphy , 15.08.2013
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held a two-day hackathon in partnership with MakerBot in June 2012. MakerBot is a Brookyln-based company that has revolutionised 3D printing by creating an affordable model that is powered by open-source technology.

As well as developing the technology, MakerBot has a strong community of artists and entrepreneurs who use 3D technology in their work. The community places objects and 3D caches of objects they make on a website called thingiverse. This allows others to print the same object or to make amendments to the design.

The Met provided access to its collection, curators and a workspace for the event. Makerbot provided 3D printers, catering and selected 25 artists and programmers to take part.

Some of the participating artists copied objects from the Met’s collection and printed small replicas. A handful of artists played, hacked and mashed-up the collection to create their own work by reappropriating elements of collection objects.

Arguably the most successful piece produced during the hackathon was a piece inspired by a standing female Deity, probably Durga, which was on display in the Asian art gallery.


The artist conserved and restored a damaged object through a replica 3D object, and at the same time changed the function of the replica – from to statue to puppet. The sculpture was missing its arms, so two of the participating artists worked together to create a 3D model puppet with moving arms.

The invite-only hackathon provided the Met with the opportunity to explore how this technology could be used to engage audiences and assist curators who work with unique and delicate objects.

Working in partnership helped to speed up the research and development process, but it also provided an external perspective on the potential for visitor-initiated appropriation. The hackathon generated significant media interest and it changed what a tight-knit community (of MakerBot artists and enthusiasts) thought of the Met.

Since the hackathon some of the participating artists have visited other museums, taken photos in gallery, and gone home to create a 3D cache and printed objects. This self-initiated follow up shows how the experience has changed how these artists view museums and their collections.

Oonagh Murphy is PHD candidate at the University of Ulster. This article was first published as part of her research into the impact of digital culture on museum practice. Oonagh blogs at oonaghmurphy.com and tweets @Oonaghtweets