Trunk Space Celebrates Its Eighth Anniversary This Weekend

It's estimated that the average lifespan of new business is anywhere from 3 to 5 years. Whoever conjured up that statistic obviously never had the

Trunk Space

in mind since the downtown Phoenix art space, boutique, and performance venue has lasted 8 years.


It's arguably one of the longest-running galleries in downtown, having hosted 80 different art exhibitions and experienced nearly 100 First Fridays. Besides becoming an epicenter for outsider art and bizarre performances aplenty over the years, Trunk Space has survived the ups and downs of the ever-tumultuous local art community.

Co-owners Stephanie Carrico and JRC have weathered recessions, financial problems, the decline of the Grand Avenue scene, and even the breakup of their onetime romance.

"Nope," Carrico says. "When we opened, I thought, 'If we do this for six months, we're doing good for Phoenix. So anything beyond six months, I was like 'Wow, we made it a year.' And to have made it for eight years seems really epic."

JRC is equally astounded with the art venue's longevity.

"I never really think about the length of time with any project. When I start doing something, I just kinda keep going until it's done. I never thought, 'This is only going to last a month," he says. "Hell, when we split up, who would of thought we'd still be doing this five years after that."

Both JRC and Carrico admit that running the Trunk Space for the last eight years have been a long, strange trip. It's a journey that started out in 2004 when they split off from the old Paper Heart, where they were helping book concerts and selling espressos from their coffee cart inside the now-defunct gallery's original location on Fifth Avenue and Van Buren.

"We worked at the old Paper Heart location for all of 2003," Carrico says. "And eventually, it came time for us to go do our own thing, which was always our plan."

So the pair, who were dating at the time, packed up their trademark red coffee cart, renovated a space on Grand Avenue that was the former home of 3 Car Pileup, and debuted the Trunk Space in April 2004. They had different neighbors in those days, including the onetime downtown location of Art One and original home of the now-closed Perihelion Arts.

Back then, the Trunk Space offered a bit of alternative to either of those defunct spaces, focusing more on performance and visual art of a far weirder and peculiar nature, whether its was bizarre burlesque of Vaudeville acts like The 999-Eyes Freak Show or the uniquely strange and colorful illustrations of Luster Kaboom.

"The 999 Eyes show was definitely a highlight because while they were freaks, they were also amazing performers and really sweet people," Carrico says. "Plus we've always wanted to be a hotspot for burlesque from the very beginning and that was the epitome of that aesthetic, that old-timey Vaudevillian sort of thing."

Even the pair of weddings that have taken place at the Trunk Space were a bit weird, including one couple getting hitched by JRC (who's an ordained minister) underneath a gargantuan papier-mâché monkey skeleton.

JRC recalls one memorable performance artist named Menamena who buried himself in a plaster shell filled with dirt behind the Trunk Space while others uttered guttural chanting.

"It sounds ridiculous and asinine, but it was actually really awesome to watch," he says.

Carrico and JRC have also had a soft spot for outsider artists and folks of all ages taking their first footsteps in the art world, and have allowed their venue to serve as an incubator for fledgling and embryonic creatives. Downtown icon, musician, and performance artist Ryan Avery, for instance, got his start at Trunk Space and debuted many of his projects inside its walls.

"We've been a place people who don't feel at home anywhere else. And when we say this is an all-ages venue, that doesn't just mean 'Under 21.' We means all ages welcome," Carrico says. "Space Alien Donald is in his 70s and he performs here and we've got 17-year-old kids hanging out here. Its just a place where people can come and experience things that are a little weird. It's kind of a rad hobby getting to hang out and watch people be creative here almost every night."

In eight years time, the smallish venue has also hosted everything from the touring lesbian poetry collective Sister Spit and various independent film festivals to performances by body-modification group Life Suspended and gigs by numerous improv comedy troupes like Apollo 12.

The Trunk Space's legacy isn't just about the silly, strange, and surreal, as the range of visual art its featured over most of the last decade have included some major names both locally and from across the country. For example, Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh displayed more than a dozen of his colorful, custom-made rugs earlier this year.

According to Carrico, one of the most memorable showcases they've ever hosted was a 2006 retrospective of works created by the late artist Sean O'Donnell. Curated by Janet de Berge Lange, it was a "visually stunning" showcase of the montage artists oeuvre that took place a few months after the emotionally troubled O'Donnell committed suicide.

"We had wanted to show Sean's work while he was alive because it was so detailed and so beautiful and so painstaking," Carrico says. "So when Janet came to us, we felt sort of honored to be able to show such phenomenal work from such a gifted artist."

JRC also cites Gregory Sale's 2009 "Love Letters" show as another memorable exhibition at the Trunk Space.

"It was all large, conceptual pieces for the most part where a whole wall had all these paper cutout letters, each of which was a letter to someone," he says.

And while both Carrico and JRC will be celebrating the Trunk Space's eighth anniversary celebration all this month - which includes a birthday party on Friday and a showcase entitled "Infinite Monkeys" that will debut on Third Friday - they can't help but feel fortunate the venue is still around.

"I feel incredibly proud and incredibly lucky that we've managed to make it as long as we have," Carrico says. "There's been numerous times I thought the end was coming and then something would happen to make things okay."

And one of those things that saved the Trunk Space was a few bucks in silver dollar coins. After Carrico and JRC ended their romantic relationship in 2007, she says, there came a point "when it seemed incredibly hard and ridiculous to keep everything going while working day jobs."

Feeling uncertain about the venue's future, Carrico was looking for a sign to keep the Trunk Space open. She got it.

"In my head I thought, 'If someone pays with a silver dollar tonight, I'll know that we should doing Trunk Space.' I didn't tell anyone about it and 15-20 minutes later, this kid came up to pay the cover and he had five silver dollar coins," she says. "Then [local artist and musician] Stephen Steinbrink showed up and had a big silver dollar. He said, 'Hey, I feel like I should give this to you,' and handed it to me. I gave him a big hug and I still carry it in my purse. That's when I knew it wasn't time to quit."

The Trunk Space's Eighth Anniversary celebration takes place on Friday. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is $7. Click here for more info.

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