Mitch Luman is director of science experiences at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science. He has worked at the museum for nearly 30 years. On Feb. 7, the museum opened the Koch Immersive Theater, a $14.1 million replacement for the old planetarium. The upgrade includes a 40-foot dome, a 10,000-watt digital surround sound system, and stadium seating. We talked to Luman recently about the museum’s newest feature and what part of the sky catches his eye.
What is special about the new planetarium?
It is so much more than your dad’s planetarium. We don’t use that word anymore. It’s an immersive theater. The experience is immersive because what we are doing is using video projections to completely surround you. You feel like you’re in the action. We have the ability to use computer simulation and to really see our place in space and not just point out planets.
How was the design for the renovated facility chosen?
We had the benefit of being able to consult with other facilities that were first adopters, such as Nashville (Tenn.) and Louisville (Ky.). They were very frank about how they would do it if they had to do it all over again. I learned a lot by just talking to other people. We learned what to avoid, a lot of which are small things that our guests will not see. Every seat has to have a good sight line. The seats are generous and all well placed. We have a tilted dome, so you don’t have to sit straight up. We have a wonderful experience. And that is what makes it so immersive. You lose track of where you are.
Did you always want to work for a museum?
Many years ago I trained to be a teacher. I had an experience in college where I was placed in a museum to work, and I loved it. The experience just opened my eyes to a career that my guidance counselor never told me about. I finished my degree in education, taught for a year, and have been working in museums ever since.
What part of your career are you most proud of?
Professionally, this is the highlight of my career. I’ve had the privilege of working to build a planetarium. We had the benefit of lots of time and planning. We took our time to do it right. I am proud for the community because they supported us. We were saying that the best is yet to come, and it has arrived.
Do you have hobbies or pets?
For pets, I have telescopes. Astronomy is a hobby.
Do you have a favorite constellation?
No, I do not. My favorite planet is Saturn, the first planet I saw through a telescope. It knocked my socks off. It was like a Christmas ornament that had to be made up. It was just fantastic. I’ve always looked up to the sky. I just never knew you could make a career out of it.
For more information on the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science, visit emuseum.org or call 812-425-2406.