In 2011, the average That Empty Space concert cost $36.32 per attendee. Because of low student turnout and high cost the SU decided to end the free event.
Aly Gulamhusein/the Gauntlet

SU pulls the plug on That Empty Space

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Free music shows are no more at That Empty Space. This past-December, the Students' Union shut the doors to the concert series that began in 2004. Vice-president student life Matt Diteljan said the choice to close the venue had to do with low student turnout.

"We've looked at that event and we've realized that it is one of the most expensive events we run, and it gets some of the fewest numbers," said Diteljan. "We are committed at the Students' Union to provide services and events obviously that students want. So the students, by not showing up, are telling us they don't really want this event anymore, and we are looking at re-allocating those funds elsewhere."

In late 2009 the event was moved to the basement of MacHall and other changes were made, such as reducing the frequency of concerts in That Empty Space.

"We wanted to try and increase the audience numbers by spending more money on better bands, so we decreased the frequency. We went for quality over quantity," said Diteljan.

Since fall 2010, the attendance has been lower than ever before. The Jan. 14, 2011 show brought in 82 attendees. That number dropped to 50 on Jan. 28. For the Mar. 18, 2011 show only 18 people showed up and the last That Empty Space show on Dec. 9, 2011 was attended by 40 people.

Diteljan also said that more resources were put into marketing the event than done previously.

Long-time attendee and education student Mike Whittington first began attending That Empty Space in 2004 and was there to see the last show. He said a lot changed compared to previous years.

"The thing that bothers me most about the whole unfolding of the situation is the way that the Students' Union tried to justify getting more people there and putting it on the audience and not on the organizers. This is my real point of contention," said Whittington. "As a regular attendee of That Empty Space all last year, I was never sure whether there was going to be a That Empty Space or not. And I couldn't find out, I had nowhere [to look]. In prior years, posters were always up a week before or enough in advance."

Patrick Schmaltz is a second-year nursing student and said he doesn't attend many campus events, referencing the Cinemania movie billboards as the only events he has seen happening.

"I didn't know they had live music in That Empty Space, but I'd want to see live music, different types of music, I think it could be interesting. We spend most of our time in Craigie Hall or off campus because we are in nursing, so we don't really see much advertising around because we are never in MacHall or around that area. So I think if the advertising was spread more campus-wide it would reach a larger group of people," said Schmaltz.

That Empty Space was created in 2004 by then vice-president events Alex Vyskocil.

Vice-president events Eric Jablonski continued working on the new event. He said the event drew a large crowd.

"We definitely saw several hundred people coming together who didn't know each other who just enjoyed music and were able to do that all together in one room, and it really was for a number of years just the perfect end to every week," said Jablonski. "You'd go and you'd get to watch a killer show in a small room -- mostly things that you were never going to get the opportunity to see. It was just awesome."

Whittington agreed that the event was something to look forward to every week.

"It was the thing I booked my classes around. I never wanted classes on Friday afternoons because I wanted to go to That Empty Space," he said. "That was just one of the ways I organized my life and it was the things that made this a better place to be than any other place."

Local musician and U of C almunus Henry Hsieh was a part of the community, nicknamed Those Empty Spacers, and an artist who played the venue four times over the years.

"It used to be some of the best shows of the week, and I used to go to other shows and That Empty Space would be always bumping, sometimes the line up would get out into MacHall," said Hsieh.

As a performer, Hsieh enjoyed the intimacy of the shows and the local talent.

"I get reducing the frequency, but making the act more notable, I know what that is trying to do," said Hsieh. "It almost didn't matter who was playing, and anyone could play and people were there chilling out, and it was a bit more of a regular affair."

Though the current SU has tried to cut their costs, Diteljan explained that they are in a tough position.

"Some of the more expensive things, such as the sound technician and the bands themselves, those are the big costs, so if we cut those we don't really have an event," said Diteljan.

Jablonski thinks losing That Empty Space concerts is negative for the U of C campus community.

"The budget, if you just looked at it economically, you may look at it and say 'wow, we are just bleeding money every week,' but if you actually went in and saw the people enjoying it and saw how that created a small community within a big school, I think that you would think about the money part of it differently," said Jablonski. "It was money well spent for sure."




How lame. I went to a number of That Empty Space shows (when they were still near the food court, anyway) while at the U of C, I\'m sorry to hear they\'ve canned it. I was by no means religious in my attendance, but it was generally a good way to spend a Friday afternoon. Agreed with Jablonski -- it wasn\'t so much about the quality of the event so much as having a shared social space apart from lager-drenched ThursDens. Particularly for the artsier, music-obsessive students, That Empty Space was very welcome.

I suppose it\'s worth expressing gratitude to Vyskocil and Jablonski for creating an regular cultural event that lasted as long as That Empty Space did. It\'s rare that such an event has that kind of longevity; pity it didn\'t make it to the one decade mark.

Durr, I attributed the quote about who was playing to Jablonski; I actually mean Hsieh.

As a former student, avid Empty Spacer, and one-time Empty Space Coordinator, I have a pretty fair perspective on how the cards fell as they did.

One of the main reasons why That Empty Space came to fail was the change of venue. The former location (now Korean BBQ) was at the focal point of campus (read: across from Tim Hortons). Hundreds of people passed this location at the end of their respective weeks simply because it was in the Hub of Mac Hall. This allowed the event to attract interest from passers-by who might not have been aware of the event as a weekly staple, but were intrigued by the sounds flowing out.

Putting it in the basement - in a space that in and of itself was a \'better Space\' - hid it away from the public eye and didn\'t lend itself to the self-promotion that it once enjoyed. Admittedly, this is (was) a small but relevant aspect of the success of That Empty Space. For most it had nothing to do with the calibre of the groups performing, and everything to do with That Empty Space\'s accessibility. It was a common gathering place for people from all over the greater U of C community, and for many years was hugely successful.

In the words of a fellow Empty Spacer, and former SU member: \"It\'s interesting to see that the SU would rather use that real estate to make money off of students instead of providing students with a worthwhile service.\"

RIP That Empty Space - the future doesn\'t know what it\'s missing.