A series of locally owned shops line the sidewalk down Santa Clara Street in San Jose: a plant store, a record shop, and eateries. The latest addition to this neighborhood is a boutique art gallery called 1Culture. This gallery started as a traveling pop-up and moved into a storefront across the street from San Jose City Hall. The shop, as it’s referred to by the small team that runs it, is owned by local real estate agent and art supporter, Andrew Espino. He has a story to tell–just not his story.
Right before the pandemic lockdown in March 2020, Espino was driving his seven-year-old son to karate practice when his son posed a question: “Dad, what do you do to help people?” Baffled, and a little offended, Espino asked his son what he meant. “I know you sell real estate, but what do you do to help people? To help the world?” Espino recalls, “That really dug at me. It’s how your kids see you.”
Espino studied business at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, not entirely sure what he wanted to do with the degree. Sometime in college, he met and started helping a local real estate agent with administrative tasks. His very first real estate investment was a multi-family home located downtown on Reed Street. Espino collaborated with graffiti artist Scape Martinez to create a one-of-a-kind mural that would live on the building. The painting process and unveiling of the piece turned into a community event, coordinated by Espino. He learned that he loved creating a space for both local art and the community. While the building has been sold since then, the mural lives on today. It continues to read, “culture.”
Espino continued to work with local artists, helping them organize pop-up galleries. In the process, he learned the artists’ stories and promoted their art with folks who stopped by. “I wanted to understand the hustle that an artist goes through, from having to set up shop to selling their work. Some days we would leave with everything we came with, but to see an artist go right back out there the next weekend inspired me.” Espino’s time traveling to far off cities in search of art got his mind turning. He wondered, “How can we help change some of these artists’ lives? What tools do I have that can help? Giving them a platform? That’s when it hit me—that’s how we’re going to make change. We’re going to help artists.”
From then on, Espino started his arts-focused business. Once he knew the story or meaning behind a piece, he loved it even more. He wanted others to experience that same feeling. “I realized I wanted to find a way to continue sharing artists’ stories far and wide. The meaning behind a piece makes it much more important.”
After a year of coordinating pop-ups, Espino opened 1Culture as a permanent space to uplift artists and bring community together. The gallery’s name, 1Culture, is rooted in originality, creativity, and unity. “If you believe in those three things, then you are part of one culture. We are a Chicano-owned gallery, but we are open to everybody and want to uplift all artists and communities.”
“We like to ask each artist to tell a story—what is their art about? That’s a huge part of our mission. We encourage them to give us the full body, the details of what they’re trying to say.” – Andrew Espino
The gallery plans to rotate shows every six to eight weeks, curating a mixture of hand-selected artists and announcing calls for art. “Right now, there is a long list of artists we would like to highlight.” Espino runs 1Culture and coordinates art events around town while continuing his career in real estate. His first large event, KixCon, brought together sneaker heads, visual artists, musicians, and dancers at Eastridge Mall.
“We like to ask each artist to tell a story—what is their art about? That’s a huge part of our mission. We encourage them to give us the full body, the details of what they’re trying to say. We believe that behind the artwork is a mission, a purpose. We want to tell those stories.”
Espino has continued to incorporate art into his real estate career. He has procured a large art collection over the last 20 years. Occasionally, he will use his private collection to dress up the houses and apartments that he is selling, giving the space a local and welcoming feel. Today, Espino has an answer to his son’s questions. “When I opened the shop, I thought about what I wanted people to see or how they would feel—and with everything going on in the world, I really wanted people to feel present. When you walk in here, you can take a time out from the world and really get lost in these stories that haven’t been told, and you’ll be in a place where you can feel at home.”
136 East Santa Clara Street
San Jose, Ca 95113