Planetarium experts from across the globe are expected to descend on Baton Rouge for the 21st annual International Planetarium Society conferenceJuly 22-26.
More than 600 delegates — from planetarium directors and administrators to technical personnel, professional and amateur astronomers, educators, artists and equipment suppliers — are expected to attend the conference, to be held at the newly renovated Irene W. Pennington Planetarium at the Louisiana Art & Science Museum and at the Baton Rouge River Center.
Baton Rouge was one of three finalists considered by the International Planetarium Society, an organization of planetarium professionals with a network of more than 700 individuals and institutions involved in astronomy education and public outreach.
The other two finalists were San Francisco and Saint Etienne, France.
Prior conferences were held in Alexandria, Egypt; Chicago; Melbourne, Australia, and Valencia, Spain, but attendance at the one in Baton Rouge is expected to outstrip those conferences.
Baton Rouge will also have an opportunity to show off its improved planetarium, which opened in 2003 but was renovated in a three-month period in 2011.
During the $310,000 renovation, seating was increased from 143 seats to 171.
The four-day conference also will feature two events open to the general public:
The conference’s opening ceremony, which is open to the public, starts at 9 a.m. July 23 in the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre for the Performing Arts The guest speakers include Swiss astronomer and physicist Rolf Landua.
On July 24, the public can attend a 7 p.m. screening and panel discussion of the 2012 documentary “Saving Hubble,” a film made by amateur engineers about the people who work behind the scenes with the Hubble space telescope.
An international conference in Baton Rouge also means an infusion of money into the community.
The economic impact on Baton Rouge could be more than $600,000 in direct expenditures in the city, said Paul Arrigo, president of the Baton Rouge Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“I understand there are about 600 delegates coming, so you figure each delegate spends about $1,000 each for room, food and other expenses,” Arrigo said.
Jon Elvert, director of the Irene W. Pennignton Planetarium, said one of the reasons his pitch for the conference was successful is because the city’s convention center is across the street from the planetarium and down the street from hotels and restaurants.
Downtown Development District Director Davis Rhorer also cited the city’s “walkability” — the presence of proper sidewalks and having necessities and amenities within walking distance — in helping land the event.
Elvert also has said it didn’t hurt that he is a past president of the International Planetarium Society.
“That and Baton Rouge’s proximity to New Orleans,” Arrigo said. “But Jon’s past role in their leadership was huge.”
Rhorer said delegates will be travelling to Baton Rouge for the conference from 45 countries.
“That will have a big impact for Baton Rouge years down the road,” said Rhorer, referring to the word of mouth that international visitors will spread after visiting the city.
Arrigo agrees: “It’s definitely a feather in our cap.”
Steven Ward, a general-assignment reporter for The Advocate, can be reached at email@example.com or (225) 388-0303.