On the last Thursday of every month, something wonderful happens on the streets of Downtown El Paso.
People get out of their cars and stroll through intriguing artist studios, often not knowing what they will find. They meet new and interesting artists with a story to tell or artwork to show. And they become part of a vibrant community.
"It's really incredibly important to establish a sense of community and a sense of viability in Downtown El Paso," said Cathy Chen, creative director of Fab Lab El Paso, which recently moved into the Roderick Artspace Lofts at 601 N. Oregon St. in Downtown El Paso. Fab Lab is one of the participants in the monthly art stroll, known as Last Thursdays El Paso.
"With the revitalization of Downtown, it's attracting people from different sides of town and bringing everyone together," she said. "It's encouraging people to explore in a very urban setting with such heavy car driving -- to get out of their car and go on a stroll and get to know businesses and the artists that are in our city."
Laura Turon, an artist and one of the organizers of Last Thursdays, said it was designed to bring the community together to celebrate and support the artistic and cultural richness of El Paso. "The mission is to showcase and empower galleries, local art businesses, art studios, art vendors, art makers, musicians, artists and performers at the El Paso Downtown Arts District," she said.
Other organizers who help are Mabel Weber and Juan Ornelas. The organization also has a partnership with the Downtown Management District, which supports it. Turon added that the monthly event always has been a community-led effort by artists that have benefited from private and public support. Last Thursdays El Paso is under the fiscal sponsorship of the Paso del Norte Charitable Foundation.
On the Last Thursdays Facebook page, people can find maps pointing out the various businesses participating that month. About 12 venues participate every month throughout the year. The ambiance is laid back: Artists are able to showcase their work and network while visitors can meet the artists and see their work while enjoying an appetizer or beverage.
Abel Saucedo, an artist who opened his studio at 108 Texas Ave. in July 2016, began participating in Last Thursdays in February. He said the event draws a mix of people. "Everybody wants to celebrate the arts, whether it's about having something to do on a Thursday night or people who want the opportunity to create a conversation with an artist or are interested in looking at new and different pieces," he said.
For many, the Last Thursdays event is an opportunity to see something distinctly different and new. Chen said the event is family friendly and it's often young people who are most interested in what's going on inside the walls of Fab Lab. The nonprofit organization is a STEAM education lab with lots of hands-on workshops for youths and adults in such topics as robotics, coding, 3-D printing, 3-D scanning and virtual reality. "I see children enjoying art as much as adults," she said. "Fab Lab is so cutting edge, kids are usually super excited. They are more open minded and tend to jump right in." Chen said they try to partner with different artists and make technology part of the art experience.
Last month, the Fab Lab collaborated with Jesus "Cimi" Alvarado, who is known for his murals and spray-paint work. Visitors to the lab got to spray paint virtually and create a mural with a virtual reality headset. "We had a projector on the wall and so anybody could come in and watch someone making art virtually and try it for themselves," she said. "It was a really cool event and first of its kind."