It’s not The End
Marianne Watchel has cut a deal with the developer planning to raze the former Tree Frog Press building to make way for condos next year. Rather than lie dormant, the old publishing house has started a new chapter as a creative space.
Marianne Watchel is making the most of what little time is left for the Tree Frog Press building.
The corner two-storey stucco building in the Riverdale community, just southeast of downtown, is slated for demolition next year. But that hasn’t deterred the established visual artist from seeking out studio space there.
As a resident of Riverdale, Watchel heard the lot was being redeveloped, like others around the city.
“That used to be a great frustration to me; now I just say, ‘OK how can I live with that, how can I make that work?’”
She approached the sellers, Allan and Kathy Shute, who had run the former publishing house, Tree Frog Press, and owned the building for 40-plus years. She asked them to put her in touch with the developer.
“I made a deal with him,” said Watchel.
She asked to have it for one year so she could convert it into a creative space, at least temporarily.
The deal was struck, allowing Watchel to rent the building to creative types for cheap, rather than having the premises sit empty.
Watchel gathered together visual artists Kendel Vreeling and Amy Sallenbach along with musicians Bill Bourne, Ryan Funk and her daughter Billie Zizi. The inter-generational group is calling themselves the Tree Frog Collective. They got access to the space on Sept. 15.
“I think the main thing while you’re trying to practise and be creative as a musician is that you take up a lot of sonic space,” said Zizi. “You feel like you’re a nuisance or you are a nuisance. Often, you’re getting a jam space for $500 a month but you can only use it on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Sunday morning. It’s great to have space where I can make noise. A space where it’s not a bother or burden to be loud.”
Watchel echoes that, pointing out “the needs of musicians and artists are pretty specific. Where can I play day or night? And where can I paint without having to clean up. I need a building where I don’t need to be careful; you need to be able to get paint on the floor.”
Zizi is already reaping the rewards of the shared space.
“It offers not just a place to work but a place to convene with other artists,” Zizi said. Watchel is also making sure newcomers to Canada have access to the space. Artists emerging and established will practise, create, record and host art shows and concerts for the next nine months — until the building is torn down. The first concert will take place Nov. 17 with local folk singer Kimberley MacGregor and Manitoba-based Richard Inman. The grand opening is Dec. 9. It will close in June.
But that won’t be the end of the collective. Watchel is approaching other developers buying up old buildings. She’s already spoken with three others. She plans to move the collective around the city, making use of vacant spaces before they are demolished.
“For developers, the buildings sit empty. That does nothing for a community. This way, it’s an opportunity for them to engage in the arts.”
FiRSt cOncERt Local folk singer Kimberley Macgregor and Manitoba’s richard inman perform nov. 17 at the site. Marianne Watchel is reopening Tree Frog Press as a creative space, after the former publishing house was shuttered for years.