The Lodge Art Studio on Grand Avenue is closing this month, following the presentation of a final group exhibition on the third Friday of December. The creative space has been a staple of the downtown Phoenix art scene for many years, but now artists with studios at The Lodge are looking for a different location.
“A lot has happened in recent months,” artist Rafael Navarro says of the change.
First, the building housing the studio, which also houses Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge, was damaged by a summer storm. Last month, Navarro says, the management company advised the artists to vacate the building, where repairs have yet to be completed.
Other artists affected by the change include Abbey Messmer, Joe Bklacich and Lisa Jacobs Handler, who has had studio space at The Lodge for a number of years. “It’s understandable,” says Bklacich. “As artists, we’ve benefited from low rent for a while.”
Navarro hopes to find another location on Grand Avenue, but says he has nothing planned yet.
It turns out that several Phoenix-based artists have had studio space at The Lodge in the past, including Bill Dambrova and Fausto Fernandez, whose time together at The Lodge led to their long-lasting friendship. During the closing exhibition, they will show work together with other artists who have been part of The Lodge over the years.
Dambrova recalls looking for a studio downtown around 2000, years before Grand Avenue took off as a center for arts and culture in Phoenix. At the time, artists with space in the area included Steve Yazzie and the 3-Car Pile Up collective that launched the famous “Chaos Theory” exhibition. Today, the artists count 2020 as the opening for The Lodge, meaning it has a 21-year history.
He has many memories of those early days, including clearing piles of rubble left by the last tenant, installing the track lighting that still exists in the space today, and daily encounters with pimps and prostitutes who frequented the streets. Dambrova moved to Los Angeles in 2003 and then returned to Arizona. Today, he has a studio in the historic Bragg’s Pie Factory building across the street from The Lodge.
Dambrova recalls that Fernandez, Messmer and Bklacich had dances at The Lodge from about 2005 to 2008, during a period he calls “Grand Avenue’s heyday,” when other creative centers along Grand Avenue included the Paper Heart building.
Bklacich also has countless memories. “We celebrated a lot of life changes there, and the performers really developed The Lodge into a community space where people knew they could come and just hang out,” he says. “It really became so much more than a studio and gallery space, and the friendships we formed there are still strong.”
Today, Grand Avenue is home to several artist studios, galleries, and other creative spaces – including Hazel and Violet, Five15 Arts, and Grand ArtHaus.
Going forward, Navarro says he’d like to stay on Grand Avenue, despite his concerns it will be transformed just as much as Roosevelt Row in recent years, with more of a nightlife area.
“Me and Abbey, and maybe Lisa, are looking for a space together,” says Navarro, who hopes something opens up in one of the buildings artist Beatrice Moore owns along Grand Avenue. Bklacich prepares to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“We’ve been looking for a place with a frontage for a gallery, but we may end up with just studio space,” adds Navarro. “That was a nice part of the space we had at The Lodge, because we could exhibit our work, or invite other artists to show their work and have group shows.”
That public element was not always there.
Bklacich recalls first opening the space for First Fridays while he and Fernandez were there, and credits Steve Weiss with hosting the first group show, which focused more on water than the heat theme some galleries had that summer.
Their final group show on Friday December 17 will feature work by Rebecca Green, the artist whose 2015 mural The Painted Desert still adorns one side of The Lodge Art Studio. The exhibition also features art by Toni Gentilli, Tom Cooper and Tato Caraveo. Special guests include Weiss and artist Charmagne Vasquez.
Performers at The Lodge announced the show on Dec. 8 as part of a Facebook post about plans to close the space. “It is with some sadness and much warm nostalgia that we announce the closure of The Lodge,” the message begins. “In addition to being able to share our work, we shared our space and our lives with so many of you,” it reads in part.
There is a good chance that many memories will be recalled during the exhibition on Friday evening. But artists also look ahead, given the bigger picture.
“I have sentimental feelings about The Lodge, but artists adapt and they will change things,” Dambrova says. “Especially with everything that has happened during the pandemic, we should see these times as a beginning, not an end.”