First Thursday visitor observes the Astro Transcendence Exhibition that was featured in Tapp’s Art Center. Photo by: Amy Yarborough
A night of lights, drinks, art and music; Main Street in Columbia, S.C., came alive as night fell on the city. Unfortunately, an evening of joy and community was marked with a tinge of sadness. As some experienced their first, First Thursday event, Tapp’s Art Center experienced its last.
Tapp’s has stood on the corner of Blanding and Main streets since 1940. An architectural feat for its time, the building was once home to a department store. After 55 years as a department store, Tapp’s closed its doors in 1995 and did not reopen until 2011.
In 2011, the former department store reopened as Tapp’s Art Center. The building opened its doors to local artists and provided them with a home and space to create. According to its website, it has since served as space for approximately 1,000 artists and has hosted over 105 exhibitions and 250 concerts.
Though the prospect of Tapp’s Art Center closing looms for some, the news of its departure from Main Street came as a shock to many. According to Cindi Boiter, the founder and editor of The Jasper Project, many long-term residents such as The Jasper Project were informed of the art center’s closing through a post on social media. “It was awkward, very weird,” said Boiter.
According to The Jasper Project board member, Christina Xan, residents are finding things out as they go on, and it seems the same is true for the executive director of Tapp’s Art Center, Caitlin Bright. With so many unanswered questions, this leaves a great deal of uncertainty concerning the fate of many artists. Where will they go? How will they fare in this move?
“When I first heard, it was heart breaking, heart wrenching,” said local artist Michael Krajewski. “Tapp’s was definitely a stepping stone and building block for unknown artists and established artists to really start emerging. So, it’s going to be a little bit of a step back.”
As more and more galleries, studios and spaces for art leave Columbia’s Main Street, a lot of artists feel a lack of support from the city. “It’s always the city; the city is not very good at coming through with funding. They are going morally, ‘yeah, we are giving something,’ but it’s not enough and I’m pretty sure they know that,” said Krajewski.
These statements come after Tapp’s announced that the reason for its departure was a lack of funding from the city. Working as a nonprofit, Tapp’s funded itself mainly through studio rentals and beer and wine sales at their events, relying heavily on grants and funding from the City of Columbia and Richland County. For the current fiscal year, they requested $50,000 from the City of Columbia and $30,000 from Richland County, respectively they only received $7,000 and $3,000.
Boiter said, “The main reason artists have had to leave over the years is because grassroots type artists tend to not be rewarded as well as other organizations with more overhead and payroll. Grassroots organizations in Columbia tend to be over looked even though they get the most work done.”
Of the artists and residents interviewed, all expressed that they felt a sense of favoritism towards the promotion of store fronts and businesses in the area. In an article written by Jeff Wilkinson for The State on September 20, 2019, the president of Synco Properties of Charlotte, Tim Hose, was cited saying ,””It’s pretty much wide open at this point,” he said. “We’re looking for some form of retail-type user that would activate that space and that corner.””
John Whitehead the former chair and current non-voting member of the City of Columbia’s Hospitality Tax Advisory Committee disputes the claims that the city is responsible for Tapp’s lack of funding in an freetimes article written by Jordan Lawrence on September 24, 2019. Whitehead said, ““Whomever are saying the reason they’re closing is because of their budget cuts, they’ve never applied for money for the City of Columbia from H-tax for operating expenses, because they’re not eligible. And they’ve never applied as the arts center. Only through the nonprofit area have they applied, and that’s Friends of Tapp’s Arts Center. And they’ve only applied for their performances and visual arts series. So I just think that’s misleading.””
Despite who is responsible, “Main Street’s loss is Five Point’s gain,” said Boiter, “Five Points is opening its arms and welcoming artists, it’s going to be a wonderful move. Five Points will value the importance of art to economic development of their community.”
Unfortunately, the new location will only have room for about seven of the 40 some artists and groups that currently reside in Tapp’s, and the question of what will happen to these people still remains.
Christina Xan said, “Columbia has one of the strongest, most passionate families of artists around. So, I have no doubt a net will open up for them and that the art community will find somewhere for them. It’s not like I say that without fear for them or sadness for them because technically they are homeless right now as artists, but we don’t let our artists go homeless and I have faith that Tapp’s or The Outpost will find a place that can house more people.”
As the art scene grows in areas surrounding Columbia, such as Cayce and West Columbia, many artists may have the chance to build on these opportunities and create a new space for themselves. With so much in store for the future, hopefully the loss of Tapp’s Art Center will turn itself into something positive and encourage others in the community to take a stand and support the arts community.
Though the building will be gone, the artists and their hopes are very much still alive.