By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Dec 22, 2007 at 5:24 AM

James Carlson has struggled in the five years since he opened Bucketworks to get Milwaukeeans to truly understand what he's doing there.

Initially opening in a large, multi-function building at 1319 N. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr., Bucketworks has been repeatedly misinterpreted an arts collective, a co-op for creatives, a community arts center.

As director, Carlson says it's so much more. In his terms, it's a fitness club for the brain, and it's not meant to foster just one group, namely artists. Carlson says it's for everyone -- actors and attorneys, artists and accountants, dancers and designers, educators and engineers. And for a $40 a year fee, these members have access to workspace, tools and equipment, exercise workshops and virtually endless networking opportunities.

But you won't find individual studios with locks on the doors here. Recently relocating to 1340 N. 6th St. -- a building more than twice the size of its first home -- Carlson has created a co-working space where everyone involved shares utilities as well as ideas.

"We want to connect the community, connect the artists with the entrepreneurs, because they are the same," he says. "Building Web sites or making a painting, it's still a business, but it's also creative."

The essence of it, he says, is attracting passionate Milwaukeeans to a place where people are pursuing art, dance, theater, technology and leadership in a cohesive, supportive environment. It's a concept not everyone is used to, but one that could come in handy for many freelancers and entrepreneurs who have work to do, but not necessarily the appropriate place to execute it.

Bucketworks officially re-opens on Friday, Jan. 4, and although not all the areas will be ready for public consumption at that time, with a nine-year lease and exorbitant room to grow, Carlson says he's really ready to unleash his vision.

"It's almost like this is the first Bucketworks, from the standpoint of what we're going to do with it, what we've always had in mind," he says. "It grows with the people who use it."

The building is divided up into differently functioning work areas. The main entrance opens up to Quasi Café, a quaint vestibule operated by Brian Miracle and Kyle Leipold that serves coffee drinks and food during Bucketworks events. The café offers Alterra coffee, espresso drinks and bakery as well as a variety of salads, specialty sandwiches and wraps priced between $5 and $6.

To start, the café will be open to complement shows and events happening within the building, but Miracle and Leipold also have catering experience under their belts and are open to taking on large groups.

The café's other window opens up into the Playspace, Bucketworks' 10,000-sq.-ft. venue used for theater performances, large group events and shows of all kinds.

A walk past the stage and risers leads you into the workshop area, which is essentially a utopian environment suitable for drawing, painting, pottery, sewing, screenprinting, woodworking, or whatever.

"It's like Kinko's for creative people," says Carlson. Professional members -- members with keys and 24/7 access -- are welcome to use free materials, large drafting tables and any equipment they need.

The 7,000-sq.-ft. Flowspace gets its name from Mihaly Csikszentmihaly's "Flow," a book about achieving the optimal state of consciousness.

"You know how you get into the zone -- everything just works, time goes away, ego goes away, there's no judgment? That's the state of flow. This is a room designed to help people reach that state of mind and be productive."

Here you'll find a computer lab -- although the entire building has WiFi -- and an nontraditional conference area bordering meditation mats and an art gallery. If it all seems a little "new age," it might be, but Carlson asserts that it's all very "now," as well. The Entrepreneurial Greenhouse, another section, will house desks, office spaces, flat screens, a library, digital darkroom and a small recording studio.

Bucketworks has about 100 active members at the moment, from Primary Colors, a high school theater group, to Social Helix and Web 414, two tech companies, to the fire spinning troupe, Arson Etiquette. Carlson runs the organization on the premise that everything they do helps build one's brain, one's intelligence and one's economy. If everything goes as planned, it should prove to be a functioning knowledge exchange for Milwaukee.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”