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Survivors: the Trunk Space and its owners carry on in the name of art and a vibrant city

Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 17:01

Trunk Space 2

Ryan A. Ruiz

Trunk Space owners Stephanie Carrico (left) and JRC have found their niche offering local acts an intimate performance setting in Phoenix.

Trunk Space 3

Ryan A. Ruiz

Liam Murtagh (left) and wife Emily Spetrino-Murtagh of Phoenix display tattoos of Trunk Space’s reversed address number. The address is painted on the front window of the building and is viewed in reverse from inside the small venue. Murtagh and Spetrino-Murtagh hold a special place in their hearts for Trunk Space having owned a business next door, forged numerous lasting friendships there, and married there by ordained Trunk Space owner JRC.

Trunk Space 1

Ryan A. Ruiz

A sign outside the entrance to Trunk Space

The glossy eyes of a green, toothy monster in Luster Kaboom's enormous mural follow you as you enter 1506 NW Grand Avenue. The venue is as unique as its location; it's tucked into an awkwardly diagonal street in Phoenix. It is a locale and a creative outlet for artists of all walks of life.

Passing the giant's gaze, the sensory overload continues. Set aside any ideas of a pretentious art space, as upon entering you feel what could only be described as the warm embrace of a close friend's abode. An old-fashioned black and white photo booth greets you as the smell of espresso fills the air.

Crates full of dollar records beg to be flipped through as other kooky handmade goods line the shelves. A small triangular stage transforms into whatever it needs to be, whether that be an intimate acoustic set, or a full on rock show.

This is downtown Phoenix's Trunk Space.

Owners Stephanie Carrico and JRC are easy to spot. They are both curators and gracious hosts. Stephanie is usually found at the door, while JRC tinkers behind with the PA system, both taking turns behind the coffee bar. Business partners for the past 8 years, they work together to bring life to the Valley art scene.

On any given night, the venue hosts a variety of attractions that range from traditional gallery shows to zany performance pieces such as puppet shows and burlesque performances. They even have their own monthly talk show, "Grand Avenue Live." Yet, Trunk Space is most known for hosting local and touring bands.

"When we opened Trunk Space, our vision was that we wanted to be a place where people felt safe to experiment," said Carrico. "And it was really, to us, about a creative outlet. That's what we look at when people ask to book with us, not necessarily how popular they are or how talented they are."


Growing Talent


A perfect example is local band Andrew Jackson Jihad, which had one of their first shows at the Trunk Space a couple months into its existence.

"We were just looking for places to play and we heard about the Trunk Space," said Ben Gallaty, one half of the band.

Gallaty said they were able to book a show without so much as offering a demo.

"It was surprising to me that they were so open to having a new band play their space that they hadn't heard much from," he said

The group had found an opportunity in Trunk Space that was unavailable in more popular Valley venues.

"All the other clubs in town at the time, it kind of seemed like you had to know somebody," he said.

Gallaty and his band mate, Sean Bonnette, were relieved they didn't have to worry about the kind of crowd they would have to attract. The environment allowed them to focus on simply putting on a good show.

As for the first time they played, Gallaty had only to say that it was "good, but it wasn't particularly well attended."

"A lot of venues will book you or not book you based on draw," he said. "The Trunk Space is always looking to have a good, fun evening."

After that first show, their relationship with Trunk Space grew and Gallaty said the location became a home base of sorts for the band. He recalls having played at least 50 shows there over the years.

Now they collaborate with Carrico and JRC when it comes to putting shows together, an endeavor achieved with simple back and forth email correspondence.

"It's a friendly and informal affair rather than contractual," he said. "There's not some kind of set expectation, they want every show to be a good show."

According to Gallaty, the size and shape of Trunk Space makes for an interesting show as well, as even a sold out event still feels intimate.

"One thing I really like about the room is that it's a really long room rather than a wide [one]," he said. "It's intimate for the band and the audience, and when on stage, intimate for the band members themselves."

Gallaty said he admires the passion Carrico and JRC have for their venture and how they function as a well-oiled machine.

Stephanie and JRC "are very dedicated to any kind of art form, being performing art or visual art or music," he said. "They're generous individuals running this space for the sake of people having a place to go. They're interested in what you're doing musically and what you're creating."


From the Start


It is this open-minded nature that allows for the Trunk Space to have as eclectic a lineup as they do.

"When we started we were already working as artists around town, and we knew a handful of people in downtown," Carrico said. "We really wanted to be a part of what was happening here, this thing we felt was growing."

Carrico, a photographer, and JRC, a painter/performing artist, ran The Paper Cup, a coffee cart inside the now defunct Paper Heart Gallery on Van Buren and Fifth Avenue.

There they networked and learned just how to book and put shows together. Once the owner, Scott Sanders, decided to move to a larger location, Carrico and JRC took a leap of faith.

"It was now or never," said JRC.

They rented out what was then Three Car Pile Up gallery, but from the get go, they knew the Trunk Space would be a challenge.

When they signed the lease, they had only six weeks to get ready for the opening date, April 2, 2004 – just in time for First Friday. The place was a mess, according to Carrico, who said they worked 12 hours a days in order to be finished in time.

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