Pedagogy, Propaganda, and Perturbation in Early Dome Theaters

Asheville-based media artist and researcher David McConville will trace the evolution of dome theaters and their significance in a presentation at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center at 56 Broadway in downtown Asheville on Thursday, August 23rd at 8:00 p.m.

From the earliest records of civilization, there is evidence that humans have felt a need to visually understand their place in the universe. Looking skyward into the vast dome of the mysterious night sky has provided the inspiration for cultures from ancient to present to invent immersive domed environments for cosmic inquiry.

In the 20th century, mechanical and engineering advances in light projection catapulted dome theaters into the public imagination. Early planetariums in Germany caused such a stir that several were built in the 1930s in major U.S cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. There, in the midst of the Depression, awe-inspiring celestial wonders inside these planetariums offered people a brief escape from grim existence.

With intriguing names like Spacearium, Cinerama 360, Moon Dome, Astrovision, Atmospherium, TELL Sensorium, Geoscope, and Movie-Drome the mid-century domed theaters had a futuristic theme that mirrored the country’s obsession with space exploration and sensory expansion. Visionary artist/inventors Buckminster Fuller, Stan Vanderbeek and Robert Rauschenberg, all of whom spent critically important time at Black Mountain College in the 1940s and ‘50s, played important roles in the development of these new ideas.

In 1970 the art/engineering collective Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) developed a “theater of the future” for Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan. Sponsored by Pepsi Corporation, the Pepsi Pavilion engaged over 60 American and Japanese artists, including Rauschenberg, to create a multi-sensory, interactive, immersive experience inside a 90-foot diameter geodesic frame and under a 210-degree spherical mirror.

McConville’s presentation will explore the history of dome theaters and their possible role in helping to solve 21st century problems. David McConville is a media artist and researcher specializing in the development of dome-based display technologies. He is co-founder of The Elumenati (, a full service design and engineering firm specializing in the development and deployment of immersive visualization environments and experiences.

Tickets for the presentation are $5 for BMCM+AC members and students with ID, $7 for all others.



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