January 21, 2020

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Artists, musicians find new space, supportive landlords after studios destroyed in July blaze

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>The more than two dozen artists and musicians devastated by a massive Jarvis Avenue warehouse fire have found a new home in an eight-storey building on Annabella Street in Point Douglas.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The more than two dozen artists and musicians devastated by a massive Jarvis Avenue warehouse fire have found a new home in an eight-storey building on Annabella Street in Point Douglas.

Help is at hand for more than two dozen artists and musicians devastated by a massive Jarvis Avenue warehouse fire nearly three weeks ago.

They've been able to lease three floors of an eight-storey building on Annabella Street in Point Douglas, three minutes away from the mountains of bricks, twisted steel beams and ashes that remain after the blaze.

"If you don't have studio space, you can't make art," a relieved Keith Oliver said Friday.

Landlords Norm and Selange Nikkle are "big arts supporters," he said.

After learning of the fire, Norm Nikkle said he'd do whatever he could to help, including not charging the artists for the first six months.

"If that'll help you guys, we would love to do it," he told Oliver.

Two of the floors are open now, with the third expected to be in use by January. All but one of 26 people who lost work and equipment have signed on; the exception is an artist who is attending graduate school in the fall.

The building has a brick facade, windows on all sides and is supported by concrete, which Oliver says will offer better protection than the former mattress factory on Jarvis did. And the rent is $5 a square foot

Tom Lovatt, whose well-known work over more than 40 years includes paintings of prizefighters, figures he lost three years of work in the fire.

"We have the chance to really build a solid piece on infrastructure that is in support of this large community of artists... If these studios remain as studios — and not just placeholders for condo development — this is a big commitment." Tom Lovatt

"I see this as an invitation to really invest in the arts community, in a really concerted and conscious way," Lovatt said, adding landlords often tolerate artists until they can find tenants willing to pay more.

"We've all kind of survived in Winnipeg incidentally, looking for spaces here and there, where ever we could fit in. We have the chance to really build a solid piece on infrastructure that is in support of this large community of artists... If these studios remain as studios — and not just placeholders for condo development — this is a big commitment.

Lovatt added that this could be the start of a sort of arts collective often seen in Europe.

It took firefighters 32 hours to completely extinguish the inferno in the 2 1/2-storey former mattress factory at 274 Jarvis Ave. A city spokesperson said the fire is still under investigation.

GoFundMe pages were created to support the artists and musicians affected. As of Friday afternoon, those campaigns have raised more than $117,000 combined; a large chunk of that money will go towards developing the new studios, while the rest will be divided among the artists.

The warehouse on Annabella Street was built more than a century ago and is a designated historic site. For 70 years it housed the J.R. Watkins Company, a Minnesota-based producer of natural health and sanitation products that expanded to Winnipeg in 1913.

nicholas.frew@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @n_frew

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