On a random Sunday evening, I was able to visit the The Space Hall in Columbia, an ethereal venue that’s usually sci-fi themed, and got to see a place without any fancy lights, no origami hanging from the ceilings, and no bamboo-lined walls. I was able to view the space in its raw form without being decorated for an event. Today, Garnet and Black, USC’s student run magazine, used The Space Hall as a professional portrait studio. I was able to take a tour of the place, and chat with the Space Hall’s directors, Sean Shoppell and Richard Voltz.
What is space hall?
“The Space Hall of Columbia is a multi-purpose arts space located in the basement of Tapp’s Arts Center. Our main focuses right now have been placed on live music events, while also developing a community dark room and photo lighting studio.”
How did this idea form and who is responsible for the development of this space?
“It’s a little difficult to pinpoint where the idea for this project started, but I do know that a huge influence came from all the house shows I went to or set up while I was still in college. House shows always gave me a sense of community and freedom that I’d have a hard time finding at a normal venue. There was a time when there were about 5 separate house show spots running in town which meant there was a show almost every day of every weekend. But that is were the true beauty of house shows are, they can’t last forever.
Around the time that a couple of those house show spots started phasing out was when I went to live up in NYC to potentially drop out of college/ have an internship/pursue “the dream”. It was a beautiful experience that helped me learn a lot about what it means to be a creative today. As important as it is to be creative and have talent, it is just as important to have time for practice and time to relax. For me while I was up there I was working the whole time trying to stay sort of not broke, any free time was spent on a train or in traffic. It made me appreciate what “free time” meant and that you don’t have to move to a “name brand” city to “make it.” If anything, you should only move to one of those places after you’ve “made it” or you have a ton of money or you’re ready to really work your ass off. Added to that I’d never found anything that gave me that feeling of community that I’d had while I was here in Columbia.
With the hopes to actually finish college, have free time, and pursue creative endeavors more fully, I came back to Columbia. This was around the time that a few friends I’d worked with before decided we wanted to try and do something in Columbia. We took a record label idea and revived it as an arts collective, each of us bringing together our different strengths, ideas, and dreams of what we saw we could do to help the community. My goal from day one was a new arts space, something that could help refresh Columbia’s artistic community. After almost exactly a year of trial and error with the collective, we decided to dissolve and focus on our personal goals. It was during our last event with the collective that I knew I really wanted to focus on starting up a new space and I just started thinking “Yeah Space Hall is a good name for something” but I had no idea what it would actually be.
For a few months I spent time looking around town for buildings that could be potential arts spaces but I realized I had no money and no plan to do anything with a space. That was when I began to think “What kind of artists could really use the help right now?” The first thing that came to mind was photographers. Columbia has such a incredible under the radar photography scene here, and there isn’t much access to tools for them to use. There are no public dark rooms in South Carolina and any local photo studios are going to cost too much for artists trying to get their foot in the door [except for the really dope photo studio at the Richland County Library that is completely free to use, you should definitely check it out].
Through sheer luck of the stars aligning, my old photography professor Gordon was able to help with donations related to everything needed to start the dark room and lighting studio while at the same time Tapp’s Art Center were looking to add a dark room to their building. Space Hall owes so much to both Tapp’s and Gordon for making this a reality. Tapp’s especially, has been the place that give me high hopes for the future of Columbia’s arts and culture. The sense of community with the people who work there really shows me how much potential this city has.”
How would you describe this type of space to a prospective artist?
“Space Hall is best described as a raw space. Somewhere, that if you have enough time and effort, you could do close to anything you want in it.”
What’s unique about space hall that sets it apart from other venues in Columbia?
“When it comes to our live events we do as much as we can to make it a unique experience each time. We make sure that when you come to see a live performance, you’re not just coming to see the live act, you’re there to really experience something new. With that, we also try to do all we can to give credit where it’s due. There’s so many moving parts of a live show that kind of go unrecognized on a public level. Everything from who sets up the sound system, to the photographer who takes pictures at the show. It’s kind of like the show is a big cell and each different aspect plays an important role which makes it important to recognize them and their work.
For example, my brother Michael Shoppell [aka Grawix] is the most talented VJ artist in town, and if you’ve seen a show in the past two years, where there have been crazy visual projections, it’s a very good chance that he there was standing in the back of the room making it look that cool the whole time. Chris Johnson is also another important collaborator with the Space Hall who’s talent with sound equipment has truly been a blessing on the local music scene.
Another side of that is we want to teach people those same skills to help them learn how to do something related to live events. Zoe Hedquist, who is a talented photographer works with the Space Hall as the Dark Room Manager, has also been learning how to operate lights for live events. Basically, the more people who learn how to do these behind the scenes kind of things only helps build for better more unique shows in the future.”
What type of art do you want to be included in this space?
“We want to try and do all that we can. Our strengths continue to be live music events, but we hope to have everything from galleries to film screening.”
What events at space hall have been the most successful / how were they successful?
“There’s a lot of different ways to look at success, which is something this process has been teaching me. When I first started throwing shows and events a big concern for me and everyone else was numbers. Which is important but not the ultimate barometer for success. The main focus for us is to give people an experience that was fulfilling. Be it a time you danced all night, or something where you heard something that made you laugh, cry, or dream.
Our most important and successful event to date has definitely got to be our “Venus Rising” show. Everything from the performers involved, and everyone who came out gave me that’s “oh shit this real” moment. The line-up featured three all female fronted R&B singers. Their experience that night, and what it felt to help these incredible artists have a chance to perform, doesn’t compare to anything else when it comes to success.
Another thing that added to that show’s success is in thanks to Lee Garrett, Space Hall’s Live Event Coordinator, who put together the most incredible collection of art for the show’s campaign. His attention to detail and his talent for original flyer art is a style of it it’s own”
What’s to come for space hall? Are you excited for any future exhibitions/ shows?
“We have a lot of things lined up to come — that it’s hard to say what’s most exciting, but for as of now, I know we are excited as hell that the dark room we’ve been working on is almost finished. Richard Voltz who is our Photo Programs Director, has been deep in the basement pretty much every day working on the dark room.
We will be having a big first Thursday opening on March first. So if you have any film you want to get developed soon send it out way.”
If you guys could host any type of exhibition/ concert/ or gallery, what would your ideal show be?
“I’ve always wanted to make a VR drone system where you can pilot a drone in outer space like around the International space station or something . There’s also the idea of making 3D visual graphics shows. So maybe one of those things could happen soon.”
The Space Hall of Columbia is located in Studio 31 in the basement of Tapp’s Art Center.
Interview and Photos by Maquel Parks // DJ Corduroy