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4335Mind-blowing immersive visual music experiences - more thoughts

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  • Christopher Hudson
    Dec 18, 2013
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      This discussion is great, and I don't take any of it personally! Hi Mario! It's an important discussion to have if want to make smaller traditional planetaria significant fulldome venues. I'm very keen on the fulldome experience and really want to find a way to make it work in our planetarium, as Mario and others know. As Andy says, when it works, it works spectacularly.

      My post just wanted to make the point that IN OUR PLANETARIUM it is really hard to make the sums work to adequately reward the artist. My post was long - and no doubt tedious - because I felt I had to lay out the factors as they affect us. The mileage in other planetaria will vary. Yes, we like to show new work and reach new audiences. Yes, we are keen enough to have commissioned fulldome art pieces. But we have to accept that at Newcastle we do lose financially on fulldome art events. Whilst we can cover that to a degree - and we do hide all sorts of costs for the general upkeep and running of the building and planetarium which really should be included - the bottom line is that we can't afford to pay the artists anything like the amount they deserve and probably need for a living wage.

      To summarise, in our case, 69 seat capacity time at �5 a ticket less the costs for opening and staffing the building in the evening and less advertising costs equals not much money for an artist or artists!

      I'm delighted that Mario's mileage differed, and he is right that Pink Floyd is a great hook. I did say that this was a probable exception for fulldome profitability - we've had good response as well. �4000 profit is great, as are the rave reviews. But that is still just about �200 for a pretty well packed out performance ... that's not much of a buffer to support less popular work. I've always been impressed by his Dome Club. But was that a financial success? What sort of size community did this sustained effort build? Was there a prospect for grant funding from the Arts Council? That was the only way we at Newcastle could see to run an arts programme and we didn't get one. I know it sounds like excuses, but the urban area of Birmingham is considerably bigger than that of Newcastle and they can operate their planetarium independently of opening the science centre.

      Again, I emphasise that we are a science centre with a planetarium, not an arts dome. In 2012 we had 85,421 people seeing complete planetarium shows/ programmes. We are on line for perhaps 95,000 in 2013. Based on our feedback, we do a lot of stuff right with our public programme of fulldome shows, in-house shows and presenter-led star shows. We receive no government support - we have to find all our own money through activities or grant applications. We do have a creative and stupidly hard-working staff and management, but money's not easy to find these days.

      So, probably about 30,000 a year are seeing professionally produced fulldome shows. We really should be able to shift some of that audience (many of who sign up for our events mailing list) to fulldome art, but we essentially fail to. Any ideas? I know that Birmingham broke the 100,000 visitor mark, so how many of these converted to Dome Club attendees?

      I'm lucky in not having finance people breathing down my neck to make money with each event, but our charitable aim is: Life's mission is to be the best place in the UK for enthusing and engaging everyone in science and to provide support and state-of-the-art facilities on site so that world-class scientific research in medicine can flourish. Science, although we interpret this widely as I'm sure other science centres do. For example, Life has funded an artist in residence and a comedienne in residence for a year each in the last two years. We believe in art and science together. I fully agree with Andy that if you get one audience, it can encourage them to come for other events. That is why we have support from our management board to run a broad programme. It is a major reason why we run such things as late evenings which are a lot of work (and fun!) for the financial return but are seen as a good way to build the audience. But our hard facts suggest that despite the love shown to fulldome on these events (remember that I argued that fulldome art works great as part of a multi-activity event), subsequent mailing for arts fulldome events have had vanishingly small effect.

      I fully agree on the challenges of both big-money cinema and the VR technology like Occulus Rift. Exciting, but scary in raising audience expectations.

      That means more than ever that we need to have 'mind-blowing' fulldome content that can really engage an audience.

      I still think that a lot of the problem is general public unawareness of fulldome's potential. To take a UK example, when we put on Maker Faire UK last year (total attendance 10,000 over a weekend), I ran a stand on fulldome art production as well as running pieces in the dome. There was almost total unawareness of NSC Creative amongst the general public (despite a fair few having seen their shows!), with only perhaps a quarter being aware that Leicester was the National Space Centre. That is not just unawareness of a particular artist, that is unawareness of the most prolific UK production house. We hoped that we did a good bit of publicising that day. However, I feel that we have to be able to associate fulldome with particular artists or studios in the public mind if we want to move out of niche markets - and that takes advertising and that takes money (in my opinion). Mario is right in that it requires committed marketing, and I'd add sustained marketing.

      So what do smaller planetaria like ours do? Where do we find the money and staff time to build that arts audience? I'm a team of one. Unlike Mario, I don't see traditional fixed planetaria as an impediment to the fulldome medium, but equally I don't see how they can fund a vibrant community of fulldome artists. Perhaps the route to support the artistic community is down that of mobile 'arts domes' that can be sponsored to travel to arts events. As I've said, fulldome art works well for us in conjunction with other science centre activities as opposed to as dedicated events.

      The more thoughts from Fulldome members the better. I suspect many of us could do with as many ideas as possible to push fulldome ... otherwise Life's planetarium will just carry on pushing where we can and enjoy fulldome content in our niche way. But we can't properly reward artists on that basis.


      Christopher Hudson

      Planetarium Supervisor
      Centre for Life
      Management Suite
      Times Square
      Newcastle upon Tyne
      NE1 4EP

      Tel: +44 191 2438220
      Fax: +44 191 2438201
      Email: Christopher.Hudson@...

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      Haida stories tell of how the first people emerged from a gigantic clamshell on the beach of Rose Spit. They got out with the help of Raven, the most powerful creature from myth time. Raven was wandering on the beach, when he heard some noise coming from a clamshell. He looked more closely and saw that it was full of little human creatures. They clearly looked terrified by Raven and the great big world outside the shell.

      �So the Raven leaned his great head close to the shell, and with the smooth trickster�s tongue, that had got him out of so many misadventures, in his troubled and troublesome existence, he coaxed and cajoled and coerced the little creatures to come out and play in his wonderful, shiny, new world.�

      �Bill Reid, qadasgu qligawaay clan