thChrch welcomes El Paso artists with a creative space


Gaby Velasquez

thChrch hosted a Beto O’Rourke fundraiser on Wednesday, April 18. The space will serve as a space for artists and other future events.

Elenie Gonzalez, Staff Reporter

Just under the U.S. 54 overpass, adorned with Chicano-inspired murals and at the edge of Lincoln Park in central El Paso, lies the thChrch, a collaborative creative work/study space for artists and entrepreneurs to develop ideas with the help of the community.

Their mission is to bring local communities to life through the culture of music, film and art. “Community is our religion,” it states on their website.

The 5,000-square-foot building, which once was a tire storage warehouse, opened its doors in September 2017 and has become a hub for local creatives to use as a communal space to work on projects, house events and seek help through the direction of its operating partners Frank Luna and Gabe Fernandez.

“The underlying goal is trying to educate artists who are bad at business, bad at money management, along with building business relationships and building the long-term career,” Luna said. “That’s the main thing we do here, we try and educate artists.”

Luna, who is the founder and creative director for thChrch, founded the first space when he was living in San Diego in 2014. He saw the success he had there and wanted to bring his ideas back home to El Paso knowing there was a need for it.

Once he found the perfect space in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, thChrch took off and word quickly spread amongst the arts community. 

As fate would have it, the neighborhood mirrors the Barrio Logan neighborhood in San Diego, which cuts right through Chicano Park. When you see pictures of Chicano Park, there is an obvious influence on Lincoln Park.

“I came back to El Paso because I love El Paso, I see how much can be done here,” Luna said. “So that’s our goal, to elevate any artist, any collective, any entrepreneurs to get as much content in and out of El Paso showcasing us. The big thing that I learned in San Diego and coming here too is just to listen to the community and so we can build together.”

He says that Barrio Logan is now a flourishing little arts district that a majority of the neighborhood operates and they own their own businesses and galleries, which he hopes to see happen in El Paso.

Luna works together with Gabe Fernandez to assure they can provide the best support for those who walk into thChrch doors.

Fernandez, a graduate student in educational administration at UTEP, who is the producer and education director at thChrch, created a curriculum about how to assist anyone who comes in for advice. He has a passion for education, and says that one of the things he enjoys doing most is sitting down with creatives, consulting with them and helping map out a plan.

The big goal of theChrch is to help artists understand that in order to make the long-term goal work, artists have to start thinking like entrepreneurs.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re a small business or a creative or a musician, we’ve created a curriculum and we’ll actually work with you one-on-one to teach you things like budgeting, how to market your work, or how to just work on big projects more effectively,” Fernandez said. “There are certain skills that go into that, so that’s really what we try to focus on. It’s not just the artistic creative stuff, but the structure and business behind it.”

UTEP senior and theater performance major Stephanie Carrillo is just one of the creatives who has been involved with thChrch from the beginning. 

“The greatest thing that they stand for, which for me I feel personally as an actor and a director, is they try to get artists paid for doing what they love to do,” Carrillo said.

She proposed an idea to Fernandez and with his help, she is in the process of building a theater company and already has some shows that are lined up. As a UTEP student, she is working closely with professors in the department to showcase plays that have already been established by other student actors and designers.

“Every semester, there is a director that is picked out of the senior students, to direct a show. They cast their show, direct their show, only for that one day for a grade, and essentially no one gets to see it,” Carrillo said. “I thought, well what if we take those shows that are already built and we bring them here once their done and we put them up so that they can get paid.”

Carrillo understands the importance of making sure artists get paid for their craft so that they don’t feel the need to leave El Paso and instead keep their talent local. She emphasizes that it’s truly about the community effort and giving back so others can grow and she is thankful for how thChrch has helped her evolve.

“That’s what we want to do, we want to create, for us, not just for the artists but as a platform for the artists to create for the creatives. That’s what they’ve helped me do,” she said.

Property owner Jonathan Hernandez was approached by Luna to help make this project happen. He showed Luna the space and after a series of conversations, they decided to get the project off the ground.

“We kind of did it very bare bones at the beginning and then we started investing in the space, in central El Paso, in an old warehouse that can bring life to the community,” Hernandez said. “I believe thChrch managed to start out very organically and I think it was only possible through a collective group of people reaching for something, to create some intimacy and make it comfortable, like a place where somebody in a suit and somebody in jeans can interact in the same space, different demographics, different people coming together.”

Michael Cortez, a 2012 UTEP graduate who majored in graphic design and printmaking, has been able to use the space to showcase his own artwork during a recent event.

“To me, thChrch is a place to spark innovation in the creative side of things. There’s a lot of people trying to make innovations in business, in technology, and these guys are the influencers for creatives, for musicians, artists, you name it. They’re trying to get that spark of culture to kind of lead the way through the rest of El Paso,” she said.

Aspiring entrepreneur and artist Alexander Lopez often steps into the thChrch and says they have helped him not only to become more creative, but to learn how to channel his ideas.

“One thing is to create the art, but nobody really knows what you do after and that’s where thChrch comes in and they help you promote it,” Lopez said. “They even help you price it, they help you not only be creative but also get into the business mindset.”

thChrch is located on 3900 Rosa Ave. and doors are open to the public every Saturday from 2 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Although it is still in the building process, Fernandez encourages anyone seeking advice to visit.

“Our doors are open, and we will literally sit with you one-on-one, for as long as it takes to help you start making steps to improving your craft or your business,” Fernandez said. “You’re not alone. There’s a community here to build with always. It doesn’t matter what you do or what your genre or skill level or even your age, we’re here to help.”

Follow Elenie Gonzalez on Twitter @eleniegonz