Madison's brave, all-ages performance and art space Project Lodge was on the ropes last summer. Noise complaints from neighbors of the East Johnson Street storefront sparked scrutiny from the city. Suddenly, instead of happily flying below the radar, Lodge executive director Bessie Cherry was in the crosshairs.
The city didn't know what to make of the place. Who could? Project Lodge was basically a community of friends who were renting the space to hang art, hang out and host concerts. But the city wanted answers. Enough so that Cherry accepted the pro bono legal advice of local attorney Stafford Rosenbaum.
The transformation that's since occurred is akin to an unruly teenager blossoming into an unruly (but wiser) young adult. ProLo will become a nonprofit in 2012. An edict known as "Lodge Rules" is now tacked up, outlining patron expectations related to alcohol, noise and hours. Agreements with performing artists, heretofore as casual as a quick phone conversation, now come in the form of standard contracts. Board members are stepping forward. Volunteers now have specific duties rather than shrugging through the door with a "what's up?" focus.
And last weekend, the day before her birthday, Cherry received a unique gift, the launch of a Kickstarter campaign conceived and directed by veteran Lodge volunteer Kenny Monroe.
The Kickstarter video, "Support the Preservation & Evolution of the Project Lodge," seeks to raise $8,000 by Feb. 18. It features insight from volunteers and artists (disclosure: I was interviewed for the video by virtue of being a past performer in the space). Local filmmakers/musicians Ezra Ewen and Kartsen Osterby shot and gathered sound for the short.
The video is only one spoke in a hard-rolling wheel of fundraising in the coming weeks. A Majestic Theatre benefit show on Jan. 21 will showcase performers who have played ProLo, including Icarus Himself, Anna Vogelzang, Whitney Mann and Julian Lynch. Look for a ProLo-sponsored stage at Bookless, a Madison Public Library Foundation event on Jan. 28 (see Arts Beat). A High Noon Saloon benefit show hits Jan. 29.
Cherry says the capital campaign will take stress off volunteers, and Cherry herself. They have kept the space going by spending their own money. The current lease isn't up until August.
"Although we really love our neighbors on East Johnson, we are definitely looking for another space," says Cherry. "One that holds more people, with two bathrooms, in a slightly less residential area."
Cherry admits finding a new home with those features, combined with her desire to locate within reach of the student base, will be a challenge. But she's devoted to the future of Madison's most unusual 1,000 square feet, real estate she says is "intrinsic to the cultural ecosystem."
Says Cherry, "Places like Project Lodge serve as incubators for more prominent spaces. It lets a band or an artist or someone with an idea build an audience, experiment, get ready for primetime."