Inspiring and Uniting Communities: Band Shells Evolving

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Ark Nova Interior

Music and other performing arts have a unique power to inspire and unite communities. A 2010 Gallup study found that social offerings, which include the availability of arts and cultural opportunities, ranked #1 in determining residents’ attachment to their communities.

To foster these opportunities, brick-and-mortar band shells are being joined by innovative new types of performance venues – including mobile options – designed to reach more people.

History…Tons of Bricks, Stone, Etc. Most community band shells erected during the 1920s – 1940s were marvels of construction, behemoths engineered to withstand Mother Nature’s extremes – and Father Time. The Roxbury Band Shell in Johnstown, Penn., for example, was built from 2,203 tons of stone, 576 tons of sand, 192 tons of slag – held together by 969 barrels of cement!

Roxbury band shell

Vintage Roxbury band shell

Acoustical Purpose. At its basic level, a band shell’s design is intended to focus sound energy to the audience, while also providing the early reflections needed to give musicians a sense of ensemble.

Renewed, Razed or Re-Imagined. Today many band shells across the U.S. like the Roxbury are being restored; some have been torn down.


Ark Nova Exterior

A new type of band shell solution recently debuted in Japan – an inflatable concert hall designed to seat 500 people, called “Ark Nova.” It’s mobile and will tour areas of Japan impacted by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. According to a Huffington Post article this project “aims to deliver the promise of hope…through the power of music and architecture, as well as restore a sense of normalcy amongst its inhabitants.”

Other Mobile Band Shell Solutions. Mobility is a tremendous benefit of next-generation band shells, because they can reach more people and areas underserved by permanent sites.

For example, the Showmobile® is an all-in-one mobile stage invented by Harry Wenger in 1961. Originally called the “Bandwagon,” it was designed as a mobile version of a traditional city band shell. Today’s version features cantilevered overhead canopy and fold-out stage – both hydraulically operated – along with optional lighting and sound systems.

Wenger Showmobile

Wenger Showmobile


Wenger Inflatable Shell & Versalite Staging

Wenger Inflatable Shell

Ten years ago Wenger introduced its Inflatable Acoustic Shell, which transports easily and inflates in just ten minutes. In acoustical tests, this shell increased reflected sound energy from 1 to 4 decibels – an impact comparable to doubling a music group’s size.

What’s Next? With the rise in social media and other “virtual” on-line gatherings, how can communities continue to foster engagement in the performing arts, to help promote the civic attributes that Gallup found most residents want? What should community-based arts groups do to stay relevant and attract tomorrow’s audiences?

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