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.

StarMetro Edmonton - - News - SARAH HOYLES

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.”

Kevin Tuong/For MeTro

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.

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