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The Daily
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The Project Lodge: Art meets music
Gallery/venue emerges as a new cultural power spot
Buckingham and Larson create a gallery and music venue.
Buckingham and Larson create a gallery and music venue.
Credit:Eric Tadsen

Portland, Ore., transplants Chris Buckingham and Kendra Larson had a full cultural life back home in the Pacific Northwest. Buckingham played in indie bands, Larson made visual art, and together they hosted art shows in their home. Here in Madison, they hope to catalyze the same level of activity at the Project Lodge, their new gallery and all-ages music venue at 817 E. Johnson St.

"I'll try not to schedule bands on the days when we have art openings," says the rangy, bespectacled Buckingham without the slightest hint of irony.

The gallery isn't meant to be a moneymaker. Buckingham and Larson live in a small studio apartment, and they've used some of their savings on rent for the venue's expenses. Along with income from the jobs both hold down outside of the Project Lodge, gallery rental fees should also help cover costs.

On the visual-art front, the couple plan to host a number of one-week shows on the gallery's freshly whitewashed walls. Larson says sculpture and painting are good fits for the 1,110-square-foot storefront but adds that she's open to anything. And she notes that back in Portland, one show consisted of friends holding a tailgate party outside the couple's house. The gallery's current exhibit features an eclectic grouping of art and mementos contributed by neighboring stores on East Johnson.

Meanwhile, with help from local music blogger Kyle Pfister, Buckingham is already filling up the Project Lodge's evenings with all-ages concerts. Both locals and touring acts like Say Hi [To Your Mom] and Phosphorescent are on tap, with many of the bookings leaning toward the indie end of the musical spectrum.

Then there are the informal Sunday brunches the co-owners host to network with fellow artists. "We have a waffle maker and coffee," laughs Larson, who's working on an MFA at the UW. "It's just a way of getting people together to talk about art and music and whatever."

While the gallery will organize exhibits on its own, it will also rent out its walls to artists who want to mount their own shows. Buckingham expects to rely on touring musicians he knows from Portland and elsewhere for the Project Lodge's higher-profile gigs.

Larson plans to graduate from the UW in mid-2009. Once that happens, the couple may pull up stakes and move on. But Buckingham thinks the Project Lodge will prove to be such a vital asset that it will live on without them.

"We're really hoping someone will want to take it over," he says brightly.

Movie town

Now that the tax incentives contained in the 2006 Film Wisconsin bill have finally gone into effect, one Wisconsin city is in the process of adding some much-needed infrastructure for making movies in the state. Unfortunately, it isn't Madison, where economist Richard Florida's ideas about attracting and retaining youthful members of the creative class were all the rage a few years ago.

The industry news site reports that two former manufacturing plants in the Milwaukee suburb of St. Francis will soon be home to "Wisconsin's first and only studio complex," the privately developed Third Coast Studios. The first phase of the buildings' multimillion-dollar renovation should be completed by June. Tenants will include a digital photography studio, an independent film company and a camera-rental branch of video and film production supplier Fletcher Chicago. A 5,500-square-foot soundstage with a 45-foot-high ceiling is also in the works.

Could it be that the Milwaukee area has stronger designs on the creative class than we do?

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