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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Bucketworks provides creative space to fill up


"What it takes to make lasting, healthy change is bucket work: taking a bit of the problem and dealing with it a little at a time," says James S. Carlson, the executive director of Bucketworks, a non-profit corporation aimed at enabling the healthy growth of people, ideas and communities.

Bucketworks, 1319 N. Martin Luther King Dr., opened in June of 2002, but Carlson, 28, originally conceived the idea a couple of years earlier. His dream was to create an environment where adults could combine work and play, and share their skills with one another.

"Rather than making an arts-centric place, I wanted to make a place where adults with many diverse interests would interact," says Carlson. "Members with skills in science and technology, business, law, finance, the arts and health would meet to discuss and share their skills."

Bucketworks is divided into four areas: The Playspace, a huge performance event and class space with a theater stage and movable walls; The Workshop, a large room equipped with computers, a pottery wheel, sewing machines, easels and other tools for creativity; The General Store, an on-site supply store with a staff-operated woodshop, kiln, stockpile of paper, paint, brushes and other craft supplies, and a lending library; The Showroom, a retail floor space and art gallery to showcase the works of members and local artists.

Over 100 artists have already shown their work at Bucketworks, and the paintings of Jeremy Guzzo Pinc are currently on display in the gallery.

"There are just as many tools for the engineering-minded person as there are for the artistically inclined," says Carlson, who has a background in business and technology.

Membership is required to access the space and its offerings. A basic membership -- intended for students -- is $35 a month, and a professional membership -- for artists, academics, professionals or businesspeople who wish to make and sell products -- is $100 a month. MPS teachers are eligible for a discounted membership of $20 per month.

The basic membership offers access to most of the spaces and all of the classes, and the professional membership also includes an annual one-person show in the Bucketworks Showroom, discounted rental rates for the Playspace performance environment, free access to the "Thing Factory" and discounted prices on materials for sale in the on-site supply store.

Classes include fencing, art, science, civics and politics, film, photography, computers and more.

"It (membership) is much like the YMCA, except the focus is on mental, expressive and emotional growth rather than physical," says Carlson.

Currently, there are 12 basic members and two professional, but Carlson says they are still perfecting the marketing program and foresee a population of 100-150 members in the near future.

As funds increase, the group will open more facilities like Bucketworks around the city, including one focused on the use of fire and metals. Bucketworks is also expanding into schools: the School Factory, Bucketworks' educational programming group, is creating curricula for MPS and helping form new charter schools. Several high school students intern at the facility for credit.

"My educational background is somewhat anomalous; I have no high school diploma, yet I am helping MPS with new and existing schools. It's kind of ironic," says Carlson, who went to 13 different schools in his youth. "It's largely because of my own experience in schools as well as the experiences of those around me that I have dedicated myself fully to my work in public education and public learning."

In 1995 Carlson started a small Internet consulting business in Milwaukee, which he later sold in 1999. He then worked for another firm in Appleton and the Art Technology Group in Cambridge, Mass.

"These experiences have given me a sense of how to use technology effectively for social cohesion and education--computers can get in the way of learning if their use isn't carefully considered," he says.

Carlson has worked on a major art project for the last two years called "The Eyes of Gaia." He took 10,000 photographs of people's eyes of all ages from around the world and used them to make a huge map of the planet.

"Some interesting things I've learned in doing the project is that there's no such thing as a green eye -- it's just blue with some brown or yellow mixed in; this makes it look green from a distance," he says.

Once the image is complete, Carlson plans to take it on tour to schools and universities to do interactive lectures and demonstrations on evolution, biology and social issues such as racism. In some cases he plans to teach the students how to photograph each other's eyes and then make school murals.

The name "Bucketworks" is a perfect metaphor for the organization. "Buckets are simple containers; Bucketworks is a simple container for growth. You can take it with you when you leave, and apply what you learned in the rest of your life," says Carlson.

Bucketworks Web site is bucketworks.org.

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