Posted by: COSI | December 2, 2009

Do You Really Want the Planetarium Reopened?

There is a quandary that many science centers are in—traditional “attractions” that many people have fond memories of, such as a planetarium, are costly to operate and maintain, yet overall attendance in purchasing tickets declining. We were forced to close our planetarium after the budget crunch hit us hard back in 2004 for the reasons just stated.

Yet I still often hear about people wanting us to reopen the planetarium.

So we’re running an experiment this holiday season, renting new equipment and shows and trying it out on the public with the traditional experience souped up with a new system presenting them.

But I’m not kidding myself that national trends will be reversed here in Columbus—so it’s going to be tough, if not impossible, to support keeping the planetarium open just on public attendance.

So in the spirit of our “center of science” concept and adding more dimensions to COSI as a public outreach to scientists and researchers in our region, we’re also testing out the potential of using the old planetarium as a digitally driven, immersive presentation space. With that in mind we are re-titling the planetarium the Dome Theater.

So during this trial period we’re also bringing in astronomers, researchers, and businesses to test out the capacity of employing the Dome Theater as a one-of-a-kind in the region immersive presentation space of anything you can produce digitally—from space images from the world’s largest telescope (that OSU uses) to complex scientific or business data crunched and presented graphically through innovative software.

So we’re seeing if there is enough interest in using the theater both for business and research use as well as with our traditional public. If we can make the financial model work combing robust use on both sides, we’ll seek the funds to reopen the theater on a regular basis.

So if you have been one of those wishing we’d reopen the “Dome Theater” this is your chance to enjoy the experience again and vote for its future with your ticket!

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Responses

  1. Yes please! I love the planetarium! I really miss it.

  2. Three cheers for the planetarium!

    I’m glad to hear you’re attempting to bring back one of the things that made COSI COSI in my book. I’m just hoping you don’t try to overdo it and in turn then shoot the planetarium in the foot.

    I’m guessing that by “financial model” you intend to charge extra for the planetarium. I understand this and I don’t blame you for trying to make money…business is business, that I know. But as someone that would visit COSI just for the planetarium, I can tell you I couldn’t justify spending admission PLUS a planetarium admission for every visit. It would just be a buzzkill.

    But being able to pay normal admission and then enjoy the planetarium as often as I’d like (for free) would keep me at COSI longer per visit and would encourage me to return when special presentations are made…and I’d pay for those.

    I think there has to be a balance between free and pay-to-play. Have normal “smaller” presentations that hark back to the old COSI…stories about constellations and history, etc. Then have more robust presentations with special guests and charge for those. Give away the cheap shows and charge for the souped up versions.

    I think the fun of a planetarium has been lost…you just don’t see them much anymore. Sure, we can get nice Hubble images on-line, but nothing beats the experience of sitting in a dark room staring up at stars while someone calmly talks about what you’re looking at.

    It’s great that the planetarium is back…at least for a while…I just hope it’s something that is made accessible for everyone so they can enjoy it when they want to, and not only when they can afford it.

  3. Just wanted to chime in with a couple notes regarding what Brian said. To get this out of the way up front: “Giving it away” really isn’t an option. People will say that the planetarium at the original COSI was free, so why can’t it still be free today? That planetarium was half the size of the current one, and was paid for in the 1960’s. Shows cost a couple hundred, or, at most a few thousand dollars, and were recycled, re-used every five years or so, at no further cost.

    Things in the planetarium world have changed drastically since 1999, when COSI moved and since 2004 when they closed the planetarium at the current location. Planetariums are no longer just places to look at the night sky. They’re giant, high-res theaters capable of putting you in the middle of just about any environment imaginable. The smart move is to look at versatile systems that can be used by a number of potential groups, and that’s just what COSI is doing. However, to renovate the current planetarium into such a facility will necessitate investment of at least $1 million. And that’s just for the hardware and software. Basic planetarium shows can be created using that software at minimal cost, but the “feature planetarium shows” being produced for this digital, fulldome medium now cost anywhere from $10-40,000. Just like charging for movies in the Extreme Screen, charging for shows in the Dome Theater will more than likely be a necessity.

    Show, staff and maintenance costs, plus the original investment would be very tough to recoup on grants and sponsorship alone. Of course, if this does come to pass, there would surely be a planetarium-only ticket option, so that those who “would visit COSI just for the planetarium” could do just that.

    I’d encourage you to swing by and check out Universe, or one of the other fulldome offerings. Before the show, you’ll see a “traditional” look at the night sky, followed by one of the newer breeds of planetarium show. I think that once more people get a feel for the new world of fulldome planetariums, they’ll realize why you just can’t give it away.

  4. Appreciate the thoughtful suggestions and I hope to hear others!

  5. I loved the planetarium and really miss it. It was wonderful for entertaining and learning! I’d be willing to pay a small add-on fee.

  6. I think I would agree that being just a planetarium is a dying idea, however, having a domed screen for scientific and business data immersion is probably about the coolest thing I’ve read out of COSI in the last few years. This kind of thing has been spurred on by a pop-culture of sorts of data visualization present on the web, The New York Times, and tons of graduating bachelor’s degree and masters students. I guess in a nutshell, the world is getting more complicated, and so is the data any of us can collect about it without even trying. So in the future it will be important that we explore ways of computer human interaction and understanding. Way to be!

  7. That is great. While I don’t know if I can justify a day at COSI plus the extra cost of a Dome ticket, I wish you the best of luck. I was happy to see the name change back to Planetarium, but going back to Dome theater makes sense with everything you hope to do with it. I know it’s going to be difficult, but I really hope you guys succeed. Good luck again and thanks for trying regardless.

  8. We had an interesting day yesterday inviting a broad array of community partners and businesses in to see the variety of ways in which the planetarium can be used with new technology and software. We’re getting some encouragement, but we have more conversations, tests, and business modeling to go.

    I’d appreciate hearing from others as they experience our Planetarium over the holidays!

  9. Trip Report: I went with my mom, brother and one of my sisters to COSI today for “The Mystery of the Christmas Star” show. I have to say that I was very impressed with the whole experience.

    Other than a brief trip in for a job fair, it’s probably been 3 years since I was really in COSI. While we didn’t get full admission today (too soon after Christmas to justify the full day expense), the place felt more alive than it’s ever felt to me since the move. I had been kind of expecting to feel that way after reading some, but my Mom commented a lot on it too.

    The colors all around and the many more hands on exhibits (at least directly coming in and on the mezzanine) make a huge difference.

    Watching a planetarium show again was also fantastic and it was very well done. I hope there is enough support to keep it open at least periodically.


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