Those who know Sean Shoppell say if anyone was going to put together The Space Hall of Columbia at Tapp’s Arts Center, it was likely to be him. Shoppell didn’t even work at Tapp’s when he saw the possibilities for the unused basement space.
May 14, 2018
When Sean Shoppell looked around the basement of Tapp’s Arts Center on Main Street, he didn’t see just an unused corner. He saw the potential for a concert venue and a public darkroom for film photographers.
A year later, the small space with concrete floors, dance hall lighting and a mirror on one wall scrawled with positive sayings like “I want to get healthy” and “I will wear my best clothes” is the Space Hall of Columbia.
“I was at a local show and I was thinking, and I was like the term ‘Space Hall’ sounds cool. I was wondering what that was going to be, and now it’s this,” says Shoppell, looking around the new subterranean venue that officially became part of Tapp’s Studio 31 in March.
Shoppell, 25, wasn’t yet an employee of Tapp’s when he saw the space in the gallery and dreamed up the Space Hall, but he joined the Tapp’s staff as an administrative assistant in 2017 and soon was acting as director of the new venue as well.
Pedro Lopez de Victoria, a longtime friend, said Shoppell “can connect dots that you would never think can be connected.”
“People latch onto that, and they get inspired,” Lopez de Victoria said. “It’s a very familiar feeing of anything being possible when he’s in the room.”
Zoe Hedquist, who manages the darkroom, said the Space Hall can adapt to however it is being used.
“It’s literally just an empty room, but when artists work together to create something in there, it becomes a different space each time,” she said.
Since its opening, Space Hall events have included a series of dance parties called the Bassment with local DJ Platonic Bae, the Garnet & Black spring 2018 magazine launch party and over a dozen different bands and artists for this year’s Indie Grits Festival. The shows have a do-it-yourself feel, and Shoppell wears a number of different hats during events.
“I came to college and played in bands and helped set up house shows, played at house shows and ran the lights and stuff at those events,” Shoppell said. “The house show process is very similar to the Space Hall show process. I run the shows in the space, run sound and lights, and sometimes run beer or help out with ticket takers. Then I normally end up cleaning up.”
Columbia Voice sat down with Shoppell to learn more about his inspiration for The Space Hall and his goals and vision for it. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. (Listen to the entire interview.)
So you described the Space Hall to me as an “artistic experiment,” that’s your short, bare-bones definition. So would you mind elaborating on that and sort of talking about some of the different shows and such that you’ve had so far at the Space Hall?
When I say that the Space Hall is an arts experiment, it’s kind of like a catch-all and really easy to explain it that way. And it was kind of like a joke at first when someone asked me like “What’s your tagline?” or whatever it is for branding and marketing and all that. And so I kind of said it like as a joke because it sounds artsy and it sounds like really deep. And it kind of also comes from like an inspiration that there’s a very strong mesh between arts and science and everyone always puts arts and science together, but what does that actually mean and why would you say that?
For me, doing this has been an experiment where it’s like I came to Tapp’s and was like “Hey, I have an idea, let’s build a darkroom, let’s do this thing.” And they were like “OK, well how are we going to do it?”
And that process, getting from point A to point B, was a huge journey of mistakes and success and all that kind of stuff. But we made sure to like kind of look at it like. … “Is this working? What doesn’t work?” And we’ve kind of taken that mentality to our shows when we’re always like “Let’s change one thing up.” And we kind of have this running joke now that we haven’t had like a controlled show where everything went fine, everything was normal, everything went exactly how we expected it. It’s been actually like shows end up being a way bigger success than we could’ve guessed, or it’s like nothing happens and we’re like, “OK.” …
So what do you think is present in your personality that enables you to be a good director for a venue? What do you think your biggest strengths are?
It’s weird to just say communication might be a thing. I’m not good at communication, but there are certain things that I am good with where it’s like, day of a show, I know how to talk to people to get them together to do the right things.
“Delegate” is a really dumb word to use, but it’s like when it comes to the day of a show I’m like “Do this, do that, this should happen.” I’m also a really big dreamer and constantly have ideas. Actually, that’s probably the main thing that would qualify me to be the director of this is where, yeah, we built the darkroom, we have the venue space running, but there’s so much more that could happen here, in Tapp’s and Columbia. I don’t want to stop thinking about what could be here. …
Has there been any moment when you’ve been at the Space Hall and you’ve been like “Wow, my dream has become a reality?” Has there been any memory that really sticks out for you?
Yeah, it was our second show, and I remember there was one point, because I was doing lights for that one, and I was standing on top of a ladder and that room was full of people and they were singing along with this person’s music and like she hadn’t really had a chance to perform in Columbia that much, and then, here it is, like a room of people singing with her. Or there was one girl that ended her set and they said “One more song” and she didn’t have another song and she just did like an acapella song, completely on the spot, 100 percent made up. And I was like “this is why we’re here, to give those opportunities for those people that don’t have those opportunities otherwise.”