The Lodge Art Studio on Grand Avenue Is Closing

The Lodge Art Studio on Grand Avenue will be closing this month, after presenting a final group exhibition during December Third Friday. The creative space has been a staple of the downtown Phoenix arts scene for many years, but now artists with studios at The Lodge are looking for another location.

“A lot has happened in the last few months,” artist Rafael Navarro says of making the change.

click to enlarge Rafael Navarro with one of his artworks at The Lodge Art Studio. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Rafael Navarro with one of his artworks at The Lodge Art Studio.
Lynn Trimble
First the building that houses the studio, which is also home to Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge, was damaged in a summer storm. Last month, Navarro says, the management company gave the artists notice that they’d need to leave the building, where the repairs have yet to be completed.

Other artists impacted by the change include Abbey Messmer, Joe Brklacich, and Lisa Jacobs Handler, who’ve had studio space at The Lodge for several years. "It's understandable," says Brklacich. "As artists we've benefited from low rent for some time."

Navarro hopes to find another location on Grand Avenue, but says he doesn’t have anything lined up yet.

click to enlarge Left to right, Fausto Fernandez, Grant Vetter, and Bill Dambrova work inside a Phoenix gallery space. - FAUSTO FERNANDEZ
Left to right, Fausto Fernandez, Grant Vetter, and Bill Dambrova work inside a Phoenix gallery space.
Fausto Fernandez
Turns out, 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 sparked their longtime friendship. They’ll show work during the final exhibition, along with other artists who’ve been part of The Lodge through the years.

Dambrova recalls looking for a downtown studio around 2000, years before Grand Avenue hit its stride as a hub for Phoenix arts and culture. Back then, artists with space in the area included Steve Yazzie and the 3-Car Pile Up collective that launched the renowned “Chaos Theory” exhibition. Today the artists count 2020 as the opening for The Lodge, which means it has a 21-year history.

He’s got plenty of memories from those early days, including hauling off piles of debris left by the last tenant, installing the track lights that still exist at the space today, and daily encounters with pimps and prostitutes who frequented the streets. Dambrova ended up moving to Los Angeles in 2003, then returning to Arizona. Today, he’s got a studio in the historic Bragg’s Pie Factory building that sits across the street from The Lodge.

Dambrova remembers Fernandez, Messmer, and Brklacich having dance parties at The Lodge from around 2005 to 2008, during a period he calls “the heyday” of Grand Avenue, when other creative hubs along Grand Avenue included The Paper Heart building.

Brklacich has myriad memories, as well. "We've celebrated a lot of life changes there, and the artists really developed The Lodge into a community space where people knew they could come to just hang out," he says. "It really became so much more than a studio and gallery space, and the friendships we made there are still strong today."

click to enlarge Abbey Messmer with her artworks at The Lodge Art Studio. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Abbey Messmer with her artworks at The Lodge Art Studio.
Lynn Trimble
Nowadays, Grand Avenue is home to several artist studios, galleries, and other creative spaces — including Hazel and Violet, Five15 Arts, and Grand ArtHaus.

Moving forward, Navarro says he’d like to stay on Grand Avenue, despite his concerns it will get transformed much like Roosevelt Row in recent years, with more of an entertainment district feel.

“Me and Abbey, and maybe Lisa, are looking together for a space,” says Navarro, who hopes something opens up in one of the buildings artist Beatrice Moore owns along Grand Avenue. Brklacich is getting ready to relocate to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

click to enlarge Artist Joe Brklacich at The Lodge Art Studio. - MICHELLE SASONOV
Artist Joe Brklacich at The Lodge Art Studio.
Michelle Sasonov
“We’ve been looking for a place with a front area for a gallery, but we may end up with just studio space,” Navarro adds. “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-facing element wasn't always there.

Brklacich recalls first opening up the space for First Fridays while he and Fernandez were there, and credits Steve Weiss with organizing the first group show, which focused on water rather than the heat theme some galleries ran with that summer.

click to enlarge Rebecca Green mural at The Lodge. - LYNN TRIMBLE
Rebecca Green mural at The Lodge.
Lynn Trimble
Their final group show on Friday, December 17, will include work by Rebecca Green, the artist whose 2015 mural The Painted Desert still graces one side of The Lodge Art Studio. The exhibit will also feature art by Toni Gentilli, Tom Cooper, Tato Caraveo. Special guests will include Weiss and artist Charmagne Vasquez.

Artists at The Lodge announced the show on December 8, as part of a Facebook post about plans to close the space. “It is with some sadness, and a lot of warm nostalgia, that we announce the closing of The Lodge,” the post 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.

Odds are, there will be a lot of reminiscing during Friday night’s exhibit. But artists are also looking ahead, considering the larger picture.

“I have sentimental feelings about The Lodge, but artists are adaptable and they’ll turn things around,” Dambrova says. “Especially with everything that’s happened during the pandemic, we need to think of these times as a beginning, not an ending.”