The Planetarium Project @ CMNH: An Unforgettable 360° Experience

The Planetarium Project @ CMNH
An Unforgettable 360° Experience

By Julie A Cajigas

Immersing your senses in 360° of moving images set to newly composed music must transport the viewer inside the world of the film. A unique collaboration between some of Cleveland’s greatest artistic institutions offers just such an opportunity.

Would it be cheesy to say that a partnership between the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM), the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) is a result of perfectly aligning stars and planets? Alright, a little bit cheesy, but not inaccurate. The term “perfect storm” also comes to mind.

Celestial and meteorological metaphors aside, the collaboration is a gift to the public. The world premiere of an innovative artistic collaboration will bring the Planetarium’s sky to life at CMNH this Thursday evening — and you can’t afford to miss it!

The Planetarium Project is a fantasia of five 360° films designed by CIA students with original scores by CIM composition students. The results of this collaboration will delight and inspire film enthusiasts and music lovers alike. Public viewings of this unique film, art and music experience are Thu 2/23 at 8:15PM and 9:15PM, at CMNH’s Nathan and Fannye Shafran Planetarium, at 1 Wade Oval.

Tickets for the Planetarium Project are $10 per person. Click here to register today.

“We are very excited about this collaboration,” says Kimberley Gillan-Shafron, Interim Director of Marketing and Communications for CMNH. “Giving students an opportunity to show their talent is an exciting prospect for us.”

What types of film and music will you experience in the comfy, slightly reclined Planetarium seats? “There’s a wide variety of styles from very abstract video and ambient music to much more narrative or representational video and high energy rock and roll-type music,” says Dr. Keith Fitch, head of composition at CIM. “There will be a great variety of experiences both visually and aurally.”

What you won’t see is five films about space. “The museum wanted the composers and the filmmakers to have creative freedom,” says Fitch. One of the short films, for example, is a narrative based around a found photograph.

The project evolved organically, sparked by two coincidental circumstances. In the summer of 2010, CMNH upgraded the Planetarium with state-of-the-art SkySkan projection systems. These new systems allow guests to visit the universe in 360° and see the depth and breadth of far off galaxies with 3-D technology. The museum staff was looking for ways to share and showcase the new technology.

A few steps away at CIM, Dr. Keith Fitch, the head of composition, was working with Steve Mark Kohn, director of CIM’s Electronic Music Studio to enhance the undergraduate composition curriculum by adding a requirement that composition majors collaborate with an artist outside CIM.

“It is very important for young composers to be able to work in a variety of media and to be able to collaborate with artists in other disciplines,” says Fitch. “When they leave CIM they should have as many tools in their toolbox as possible – and one of those might be experience in scoring films.” The two professors approached their colleague Kasumi, a digital arts instructor at CIA and Amanda Almon, the head of Biomedical Art at CIA and formed a plan to collaborate.

Two years before the Planetarium upgrade would be complete, the three organizations embarked on a partnership that would ultimately result in the creation of five new works of art. Five student filmmakers and five composition students began creating new works of art and sharing them with one another. Through the process each selected a partner that shared their inspiration, aesthetic taste and vision.

“Essentially,” says Chris Zajac, a master’s student in the composition program at CIM, “we are 2-D artists, working to master a 3-D space with our visuals and sounds. It’s a step up for all of us. It’s not a flat sound or flat view. It’s a whole other world creatively.”

After the world premiere of the films at CMNH on Thu 2/23, they will become a part of the Planetarium’s regular programming. The final films and scores will also be submitted to DomeFest – a juried exhibition that spotlights technology, art and music in domed theatres. The films will also likely visit dome festivals and competitions at planetariums around the country.

Purchase your ticket for the Planetarium Project on Thu 2/23 at 8:15 and 9:15PM in the Nathan and Fannye Shafran Planetarium, at 1 Wade Oval here. Visit the Cleveland Museum of Natural History at and be sure to check out their upcoming exhibit on Mythic Creatures opening Sat 3/3. Learn more about CIM at, and learn more about the Cleveland Institute of Art at

[Images from top: Planequarium – Animator: Bill Garvey, Composer: Lucas Strakowski; The Shadow is Ripening – Animator: Vanesa Jeric, Composer: Matt Smith; Their Ghosts Remain Between the Pages – Animator: Michaela Lynch, Composer: Christopher Zajac]


Julie Cajigas is a Cleveland girl who grew up on the East & West Side and now lives near Akron – she’s got the whole town covered. Cajigas holds Bachelors Degrees in Communication and Music, along with a Masters in Applied Communication Theory and Methodology from Cleveland State University, and currently serves as a visiting lecturer in the The University of Akron’s School of Communication.



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