The first few weeks of the year have been tumultuous when it comes to music venues in Madison, and the scene is set to change once again as a new space prepares to take its bow. That would be The Project Lodge, a combined DIY art gallery and music venue that is scheduled to open in an East Johnson Street storefront at the beginning of February. It will be all ages, will not serve alcohol, and is already the site of regular gatherings for artists and musicians in the city.
The Project Lodge is the creation of Christopher Buckingham and Kendra Larson, a pair of relatively recent arrivals to Madison from Portland, Oregon. Since late 2007, they have been busy working to transform a first floor retail space at 817 East Johnson Street in the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood into an incubator for creative folks looking to connect and collaborate.
Before moving to town last October, Buckingham was part of a collaborative multimedia project in the PDX named Charm Bracelet, with which he worked on community art projects and film screenings. He has also been focused on music, playing with a couple of bands as well as writing and performing his own tunes (MySpace) over the last couple of years. Larson is pursuing MFA at UW-Madison, but dipped her toe into the local scene by curating an art show at the Knapp House in December.
"Kendra and I curated a bunch of shows at our house in Portland, and then had bands play amidst the artwork," explains Buckingham. "We're just trying to meet people here and create some more of that kind of excitement in Madison."
Spurred by their previous experiences combining art and music, along with the work of groups like gracie's in Portland, the pair has decided to create a dedicated space for building a similar esthetic in this city. "They had a warehouse space, they filled it with computers, and they opened their doors for people to come over and use the space," says Buckingham of gracie's, also noting the group's regular brunches and other activities -- serious and whimsical -- that inspired them.
There aren't many available or affordable warehouse spaces in Madison, they say, particularly in the densest areas of the city near the UW and east side, which is why they looked for and found a vacant retail space. "This is a really nice space, with a stage and plenty of wall space," says Buckingham of the storefront that was formerly occupied by Jade Mountain Bead & Jewelry. It's also a nice location, among the small collection of shops on East Johnson Street in the heart of Tenney-Lapham. Though businesses have struggled to remain open in the area, it's nevertheless well-situated in a neighborhood replete with plenty of artists, musicians, and other folks that can find a new home in The Project Lodge.
Buckingham and Larson are already hosting Sunday potluck brunches at the space to generate interest in the project. They're also busy renovating its interior to get everything ready in advance of their planned opening come February, and have been keeping tracking their progress (including drywall installation and their first paint party) with regular online updates.
While they're not focusing on preparing the physical space at the lodge, the duo has worked on lining up an initial slate of artists and performers to launch the gallery.
"Basically, it's amorphous right now," says Buckingham. "We're putting out calls for artists to come in and display their artwork. If they just want to show for a week or a night, they can do that. I just want to make it open enough and not force a month-long show for somebody who just thinks their work is only necessary to be up for a day."
Buckingham says they're also getting the music side of things together. "We've just been booking shows every couple of weeks," he notes, "and we're still working on trying to meet people in the local music community and passing on the word that we're looking for people to play."
The first art show at The Project Lodge is set to open on Friday, February 1, and will be a week-long introduction to the neighborhood curated by Buckingham and Larson. They want more hands involved in the project, though, conceiving and executing whatever exhibitions may follow. "We're going to try to be hands off," says Buckingham. "If somebody wants to bring in something they've curated, I want them to do that."
Live music dates are also getting lined up for the next couple of months. The Project Lodge will debut its stage on Thursday, February 21 with a show by Say Hi To Your Mom, an indie duo from Seattle that's on tour this winter. Additionally scheduled so far are Sleeping in the Aviary on February 23, Jon Crocker on April 6, and The Pharmacy on April 7. Persons interested in contacting The Project Lodge should email projectlodge at gmail dot com.
Creative endeavors like this new space as healthy as the scenes they serve. "We're interested in bringing the two communities of music and art together with The Project Lodge," declares Buckingham. "We're jumping into this and seeing how it works out."