Spheres of influence

Their names alone tell a tale: Spacearium, Cinerama 360, Moon Dome, Astrovision, Atmospherium. In the square center of the last century, when America’s collective aspiration was turned heavenward, the entertainment industry helped nurture it with the dome theater. The workings of the night sky may have been one of humankind’s oldest obsessions, but it took 20th century technology to bring the cosmos inside.

Back to the future: Asheville visual technologist David McConville will discuss the history of dome theaters, including the 1965 Movie-Drome, shown here, during an Aug. 23 presentation. photo courtesy David McConville

Most of the country’s once-popular dome theaters are gone now, victims of age and neglect, but they’ll get a fond remembrance on Thursday, Aug. 23, when Asheville-based techno-media mogul David McConville lays out the evolution of the dome theater during an event at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville.

McConville is more than a scholar of theaters-past—he’s a staunch believer in the power of what he calls “immersive visualization” to improve our understanding of our world and the universe. As co-founder of The Elumenati (www.elumenati.com), a design-and-engineering firm dedicated to visual technology, McConville is nudging the dome theater into uses even Will Robinson couldn’t have imagined.

“I use domes almost as a literal and metaphorical lens to understand world cosmologies,” McConville says. “During the talk, I’ll be trying to weave a thread that links the present to the distant past.”

It’s apt that the BMCM+AC is hosting the event; artists/inventors Buckminster Fuller, Stan Vanderbeek and Robert Rauschenberg all figured in the development of immersive media, and all spent time at Black Mountain College during the 1940s and ‘50s. (Fuller was notable for his invention of the geodesic dome, which, love it or hate it, remains one of the most forward-thinking architectures ever produced.)

“Vanderbeek and Fuller shared this belief in the power of nonverbal or visual learning, so that learning becomes experiential,” McConville explains. “Vision is a very high-bandwidth interface to our brain.”

McConville’s presentation will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 for BMCM+AC members and students with I.D., $7 for all others. Call 350-8484 or visit www.blackmountaincollege.org to learn more. The museum is located at 56 Broadway in downtown Asheville.

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