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CCU teams up with Horry County Museum to create sensory-friendly exhibit with 3D-printed artifacts

April 25, 2019
CCU student Zach Smith works on a 3D-printed artifact.Professor Katie Clary uses 3D printers to create models of S.C. artifacts to put on display alongside the originals at the Horry County Museum.Professor Katie Clary uses 3D printers to create models of S.C. artifacts to put on display alongside the originals at the Horry County Museum.

Every so often, pieces fall into place that create a winning situation for all the parties involved. Coastal Carolina University faculty and students have created such a situation in conjunction with the Horry County Museum via an exhibit that has benefits abounding for just about everyone.

Opening April 30 is an exhibit thought up and directed by professors, curated and implemented by students, hosted by the museum, and inspired by Coastal’s quest to provide experiential learning opportunities and offer inclusive and all-accessible community enrichment programming.

“Printing the Past: S.C. in 3D” is a sensory-friendly, hands-on exhibit, meaning there won’t be any signs typical of museums dictating “Do not touch.” The purpose of this display will be exactly that: To touch, examine, feel and explore South Carolina artifacts that have been digitally scanned and 3D-printed for that very purpose.

The entire goal of the project, said Carolyn Dillian, chair of the Department of Anthropology and Geography and professor of the cultural resource management course involved in the exhibit, was to work with students to create an exhibit designed with visual and sensory differences in mind.

“People go into an exhibit, and if they can’t see the things in the cases, it can be helpful for them to touch the materials and learn that way,” she said. “Most museums can’t let people fondle artifacts, but the technology we have here at CCU gives us the ability to print the artifacts in 3D so they can be touched.”

Students in the cultural resource management class and assistant professor of history Katie Clary’s museums and communities class worked with the curator at Horry County Museum, Hillary Winburn, to choose which S.C. artifacts they would scan and print for the exhibit. All of the artifacts are from Horry County, and include prehistoric pieces and fossils, the oldest clocking in at 1.8 million years old. The pieces tell the story of Horry County from prehistoric times through World War II.

“Working with the students and faculty at CCU has been a wonderful experience,” said Winburn. “The students’ enthusiasm was contagious, and I loved watching them bring all of their ideas to the table and developing them.”

Clary brought the idea to the museum’s director, Walter Hill, after she and Dillian attended a conference together a few years ago and saw some 3D fragments in basketry that had been printed so people could feel the textiles. Those pieces hit a personal chord in Clary, whose father has dyslexia.

“Going to museums as a kid, we could just breeze through it, but it took my dad more time,” she said. “A big concept in museums theory right now is universal design, which says that if it’s good for one group of people, it’s good for everyone. Everyone sees artifacts behind glass, and everyone wants to touch them. You learn a lot more that way.”

Not only will “S.C. in 3D” be a hands-on exhibit, but it will also include display cards that include photographs and the artifact’s historical information in Braille and audio recordings. The original artifact will also be displayed (under glass) alongside its 3D-printed counterpart.

Students in the two courses have done most of the work to make the exhibit a reality, the professors said.

“The students are really excited to have a chance to have something tangible come out of the class, but also something that has an impact on the community,” said Clary.

History major Javon Blain wants to be a civil rights attorney after he graduates, and said this course has opened his eyes to the rights of people with disabilities.

“I never thought about it being hard to visit a museum until I took this class,” he said. “I feel that all museums should make accommodations for everyone who may experience different problems. Working on this project has made me appreciate so many things that I may have taken for granted.”

Winburn feels this exhibit is a step in the right direction where accessibility and relevancy is concerned.

“There is always the goal to be more inclusive,” she said. “The 3D printing technology has the potential to change how museums use their artifacts. It allows collections to be more accessible, and that is a good thing.”

Now that the project is nearing completion, the professors see the potential for more, like traveling exhibits. They hope the exhibit at Horry County Museum will stay through the summer; Winburn said it’s likely it could remain installed until 2020.

The Horry County Museum is at 805 Main St., Conway, and is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Visit horrycountymuseum.org.

For more about the exhibit and the overall project, visit printingthepastscin3d.com.