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Rock, roll and everything in between: the inspiring case of Trunk Space at the Grace Lutheran Church

A culture clash for some; a safe haven for burgeoning artists at Trunk Space
Xavier Brathwaite | Special to the Digital Free Press

Trunk Space is a unique punk rock music venue found on the same property as Grace Lutheran Church. The contrast between the holy sanctuary and the rock-and-roll venue may have more similarities between them than one might think.

While religion and music culture can come across as two diverging topics in American society, the all-encompassing worldview that both spaces embody encapsulates the diversity of downtown Phoenix.

Built in 1928, Grace Lutheran Church has witnessed downtown Phoenix grow significantly. Before Trunk Space was affiliated with the church, the vacant area on the west wing of the sanctuary was originally a kindergarten classroom in the ‘60s. Eventually, it became a clinic space for practicing nurse students at Arizona State University.

The building was used with one consistent concept: to provide an inclusive and supportive space for the community.

Once the nursing clinic lost funding, Trunk Space happened to be in the process of moving locations. Brian Flatgard, a Grace Church Lutheran member since the venue’s arrival, recalled how the idea to relocate Trunk Space to church grounds came to fruition, starting in 2016.

“The way I remember it, Trunk Space was looking to host an event on First Friday and was touring the campus with Pastor Sarah. We happened to look into the vacant wing of the campus as part of the tour, and it so happened that Trunk Space was relocating. Those rooms had been empty since the school left,” Mr. Flatgard explained. “Somebody jokingly said, ‘This would be a cool place for Trunk Space,’ and everyone’s eyes lit up, and we all realized maybe it would work. And it did!”

Since then, Trunk Space has been on the property. With supportive grant funding, they’ve managed to bounce back from the pandemic and support talented young artists from around the country as a nonprofit organization.

Grace Lutheran Church has also supported the community with acts of service such as providing food for the homeless every week, portable shower facilities three times a month, and specialty-built clinics for ASU nursing students on Sunday mornings.

“There was a great mix of these two cultures of openness and not being tied to a standard box,” Mr. Flatgard explained. “The trunk space is really good about welcoming people and letting people be who they are. I think Grace Lutheran does the same.”

A culture clash for some; a safe haven for burgeoning artists at Trunk Space

While the Grace community and Trunk Space attendees are typically not exposed to the same things, these two culture blends can shine a new perspective on how times have changed. There is no resentment between both cultures, but rather an acceptance that makes both parties more welcoming of each other.

Roger Hill, a Grace Lutheran Church community leader for over 30 years, recalls how much both spaces need each other to thrive.

“I think it’s a good blend,” Mr. Hill explains. “If we don’t reach out to the up-and-coming generation and be able to change, we’re going to die.”

“They fit our model of being in the city for good,” Mr. Flatgard added. “We had common values.”

Ryan Avery, Trunk Space’s social media manager, explains how Trunk Space was practically founded by accident.

“When we opened back in 2004, we just wanted to be a weird space where you could see anything,” Avery explained. “We had improv every week, and tango lessons every month … before it was a nonprofit, there was really a strong desire to be a spot for weirdness and performance art.”

The Grace community also actively engages in music, hosting the Phoenix Children’s Chorus as they participate in a food drive and holiday dinner for the volunteers.

Although church members and the youth at Trunk Space don’t associate much with each other, there seems to be mutual respect between both parties. Talented artist and Arizona native Kimya Dawson is one of Trunk Space’s familiar faces.

From indie band Moldy Peaches, Ms. Dawson used to perform at the Trunk Space before her rise to stardom. After her music began to gain traction, the 1,600-square-foot venue couldn’t hold the hundreds who came to see her perform. The church generously opened up its courtyard just outside the venue so her fans could watch her play. Acts like this bridge the gap between the timelines of both organizations, causing both to adapt and change with the modern day.

You can find Grace Lutheran Church or Trunk Space at 1124 N. Third St. in downtown Phoenix.

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