News / Edmonton

Former publishing house reimagined as creative space

The building is slated for demolition in a year, but not before this group has some jam sessions in it

Marianne Watchel is reopening the Green Frog Press as a creative space, after the former book publisher was shuttered for years.

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Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Marianne Watchel is reopening the Green Frog Press as a creative space, after the former book publisher was shuttered for years.

Marianne Watchel is making the most of what short 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 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 okay 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 let then have it for one year, so they could convert it into a creative space, at least temporarily.

The deal was struck and it allows Watchel to rent the building and give creative types access to use the space for low rent, instead of the premises sitting 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 September 15, which is working well for Zizi.

“I think the main thing while you’re trying to practice 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’s cool to know people are being creative around each other and it’s inspiring in that way." Zizi said. "It offers not just a place to work, but a place to convene with other artists.”

Watchel is also making sure newcomers to Canada also have access to the space. They, artists emerging and established, will all practise, create, record music and host art shows and concerts for the next nine months – until the building is torn down.

But that won’t be the end of the collective.

Watchel is approaching other developers who are 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."

The first concert will be held on November 17 with local folk singer Kimberley MacGregor and Manitoba-based Richard Inman. The grand opening is on December 9. It will close up permanently in June 2018 when the Tree Frog Press building will be torn down to make way for condos.

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