ArtsQuest at SteelStacks

Mission: Flexible Sound and Video Distribution

Nestled within the Lehigh Valley in Bethlehem, Pa., the ArtsQuest™ Center at SteelStacks™ is a testament to one nonprofit’s ambitious community outreach. SteelStacks takes its name from the grounds of the old Bethlehem steel factory that is its iconic backdrop. While the eye-catching architecture of the 4-story performing arts center would surely draw in crowds, only the technology that provides a one-of-a-kind experience would keep them coming back. It was the kind of challenge that the skilled technicians and engineers at AVI-SPL thrive on.

“We needed a company that could give us clean, high-quality sounds, and AVI-SPL did that for us.” – John Raymond, project manager, ArtsQuest

“The views in and around SteelStacks are so incredible, we needed to design and implement a system that would live up to expectations – both for audiences and the performers,” says Dermot Lydon, AVI-SPL engineer. “At the same time, we were focused on making it easy for the staff to control the AV components through a holistic solution.”

To give the venue’s annual million-plus patrons a compelling, enjoyable experience, the ArtsQuest nonprofit needed the flexibility to distribute digital and analog signals throughout the 65,000-square-foot facility, which hosts concerts, movie screenings and live theater. The architectural design and acoustics of performance spaces frequently make them among the most challenging to integrate with sophisticated audio, video and control systems. Because of its deep experience with entertainment venues, AVI-SPL met this challenge for ArtsQuest.

Action: Wiring a State-of-the-Art Performance Venue

AVI-SPL’s dynamic solution combines best-of-breed technologies from highly respected companies like AMX, Extron, NEC, and Sharp. This combination – made possible by AVI-SPL’s design and build expertise – brings control panels, digital media, audio and video into a cohesive system, allowing staff to control the facility’s resources from multiple locations. To give but one example, staff from ArtsQuest can take the audio from a live performance (or a prerecorded source) and send it throughout the building or to specific zones, all from simple-to-use, accessible control panels. For the main areas – such as bars, lobbies and meeting rooms – as well as the second-floor’s pre-function area, distributed systems send audio to loudspeakers. BSS Audio digital signal processors integrated with the control system ensure that the sound is excellent.

“We needed a company that could give us clean, high-quality sounds, and AVI-SPL did that for us,” says John Raymond, project manager for ArtsQuest.

The expansive Musikfest Café, a concert hall that takes up the third and fourth floors of the center, posed acoustic challenges to the team. The area has very little carpeting and a large glass wall that looks out to the Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces. The view for concert-goers may be eye-catching, but it presents a potential problem for quality audio. AVI-SPL responded to the unique environment with treatments that limit sound reflections, and flown speaker arrays that are oriented such that concert attendees are in prime listening position.

“The goal was to focus sound down on the audience,” says Jay Paul, a senior engineer with AVI-SPL. “Precise aiming and positioning of the speakers was a big part of that.”

Those high-quality sounds aren’t limited to the concert hall. After shows, concert-goers adjourn to the third floor’s Sands Party Deck, which offers picturesque views of the SteelStacks campus. Here, loudspeakers provide audio coverage of events within the facility, including concerts, wedding rehearsals or small award dinners. Other speakers send audio throughout an outdoor plaza adjacent to the ArtsQuest building, as well as to the sidewalk leading to the main entrance.

“ArtsQuest wanted guests to feel immersed in the SteelStacks experience as soon as they come on campus,” says Paul. “Distributing quality audio throughout the plaza was one way to make that possible.”

For the Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas, situated on the first floor, AVI-SPL adhered to the highest quality specifications for digital cinema viewing. It also designed a system that handles robust analog. This stylish two-screen theater shows traditional film as well as digital cinema. AVI-SPL integrated a theatrical surround system, including projectors that observe the motion picture industry’s DCI (Digital Cinema Initiatives) standard. As with the audio setup, processors and docking wireless touch panels control the system from anywhere in the building. A custom multi-format switcher makes it easy for both theaters to use shared signal sources, carrying industry-standard AES/EBU digital audio, analog audio, HD-SDI and component video. For guest lecturers, twisted-pair transceivers accommodate computer inputs at the screens.

Up one level to the pre-function area, an interface panel provides for the connection of broadcast video cameras to production trucks during special events. A similar provisioning in the main concert area allows a nearby public television station to broadcast national or international acts.

The flexibility that characterizes the audio extends to the digital signage throughout the building. SteelStacks’ digital signage network is routed to every key area of the building, keeping guests entertained and informed. AVI-SPL designed a system that empowers the center to display broadcast TV and original content (including live feed performances). For both the audio and video, the ArtsQuest staff can assign program sources from multiple locations, using control and touch panels to route signals throughout the building or to targeted areas.

“That level of control is essential in a facility that offers such a wide variety of entertainment options,” says Paul. “You need to be able to tailor your audio and video so that each audience segment is being considered.”

Much like its audio setup, AVI-SPL utilized a combination of digital media players and 46-inch displays throughout the first floor and Musikfest Café, enabling ArtsQuest to provide sponsorship information, bar and restaurant menus, gaming, cable TV and coming attractions. Elsewhere, displays and digital media players serve the cinema, elevator lobbies and commons.

Impact: Cultural Services for the Public

In time for its May 2011 opening, AVI-SPL’s team equipped ArtsQuest to provide a memorable experience for its patrons and make good on its mission to offer a variety of cultural services for the public. The ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks has since hosted numerous performances, banquets and private events, receiving accolades from the press and patrons alike.

With wireless control and touch panels located throughout facility, the staff broadly distributes high-quality sound and video throughout the venue, giving guests tailored entertainment while keeping them informed about upcoming events.

“There’s nothing like it outside Philadelphia and New York City,” says Raymond, noting the positive reception by attendees and colleagues alike. They are very pleased with what our building offers.”