A new planetarium that also is a work of art: What could be more appropriate for the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science? This month (February), the museum cut the ribbon on a $14.1 million renovation and expansion that will allow it to engage even more visitors in the subjects it seeks to highlight.
The Koch Immersive Theater is the centerpiece of the project’s fifth and final phase, a 9,000-square-foot addition that has given the museum a new front door on the south side of the building. After crossing the new Virginia and John H. Schroeder Plaza, which better aligns the museum with the Ohio River Greenway, visitors now enter the museum through the Eykamp Pavilion, a stunning 2 ½-story glass-front atrium funded by the George and Dorothy Eykamp Bequest that opened on Feb. 7.
Dominating that space is the Immersive Theater, which features the latest in planetarium technology and looks rather like a planet. The outer surface soon will be covered by wooden panels in varying shades of brown by Muncie, Ind., artists Adam Buente and Kyle Perry of PROJECTiONE. Designed to look as if they’ve been exposed to the elements over time, the panels will in effect make the theater itself an exhibit in the museum. PROJECTiONE also created the sculptural acrylic-covering on the grand staircase that hugs the dome on one side.
Inside the theater, two digital video projectors beam images onto the entire surface of the 40-foot-wide dome, while a 10,000-watt surround-sound system further envelops up to 70 viewers. Programming will cover a range of science topics, not just astronomy, says Josh Gilmore, director of membership and marketing.
Established in 1904 and once known as “The Temple of Fine Arts,” the Evansville Museum has been housed at various times in a mansion, a library, and a renovated YWCA building. It’s been in its current home since 1959 and was last expanded in 1985.
The “Reaching for the Stars” capital improvement project began in 2009 and was designed by Evansville’s VPS Architecture and RATIO Architects Inc. of Indianapolis. Danco Construction was general contractor. Its earlier phases included renovations of the Old Gallery, the Richardt Room, the Alcove Gallery and collection storage and exhibition-preparation areas, and the addition of the Welborn Baptist Foundation Family Place, a hands-on science center; the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau Center for History and Science, a changing exhibition gallery; and a new classroom. Work on the addition began in late 2012.
“This has been an exciting year, with every month bringing new challenges and tremendous change,” says Mary Bower, interim director since January 2013 and the Virginia G. Schroeder Curator of Collections for 35 years.
One big change is the museum’s first-ever admission fee: $7 for adults and $5 for children ages 4 to 17 (free to children under 3 and members). Admission includes entry to EMTRAC, the Evansville Museum Transportation Center. Tickets for the Koch Immersive Theater are $5 for daytime shows and $7 for shows after 5 p.m. ($3 for all shows for members). To keep the museum accessible, admission will be free on the third Friday of each month, with expanded “Free Friday” hours of 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Regular hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
For more information on the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science, visit emuseum.org.