Artistic activity and traffic issues collide in North

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A 1950s gas station/garage has found new life as an arts and community center called The Warren, at 44th Avenue and Osseo Road. Owned by professional photographer Duane Atter, the “artists’ habitat” houses two North Side enterprises: Atter’s art gallery, which features many local artists, and Workhouse Theatre Company, run by Artistic Director Jeff Redman.

Redman and Atter say the collaboration, so far, has been a success: Workhouse’s production of Steve Martin’s The Underpants, Workhouse’s third major production there, opens Feb. 8. In 2007, The Warren hosted 26 artists’ showings, four major theatrical productions, three school events, two community events, one local business event, a fundraiser for greyhounds and an independent film showing. Atter said he will soon be putting out a call for artists for a Black History Month gallery show in February.

And, there are Thursday night yoga classes.

While things are hopping (in a good way) inside the building, however, business owners and neighbors agree that it’s much too busy on the outside. They are working with the city and county to do something about the traffic, which flies through the business node that includes The Warren, Steamworks Coffee and Tea Company and Rix Bar and Grill, on the curve where Osseo Road, Penn Avenue, and 45th and 44th avenues come together.

Debbie Nelson, coordinator of the Victory Neighborhood Association (ViNA) said, “There are so many near accidents at that intersection. There is no time at which there is a red light in all directions so you can get across.” She added that ViNA recently received a City of Minneapolis “Great Streets” grant, to study ways to make 44th and Penn more pedestrian friendly. “We want to make it a better intersection. There is an awful lot of concrete. Part of the problem is that we’re dealing with both the city and the county: Penn and Osseo are Hennepin County roads.”

Atter said that while theater and gallery visitors can park and walk safely to the Warren on the north side of 44th, he and other business owners have had some harrowing experiences trying to get to the coffee shop and restaurant across the street. “A city engineer said that the traffic lights are run by a 1950s electromagnetic gear system, and as long as the system keeps working, it will stay.” Hopefully, he added, with the grant and pressure from the neighborhood, something will soon change. “Recent traffic studies show that traffic is increasing, even after Kowalski’s [grocery store, formerly at Humboldt and 44th] closed.”

The Warren’s history

Atter said he and his partner, neurologist Robert Jacoby, bought the building at 4400 Osseo Road two years ago. “We decided to buy it to give me a place to work outside the house,” he said. The original intent was to rent some of the space out to local artists, “but that didn’t really work out.” He got busy networking in his new community (he now lives in the Victory neighborhood), attending local events such as “the unfortunate closing of Webber Library” and taking photos. “I gave the pictures to whoever organized the event. If they asked who I was, I gave them my card.”

About the same time he was making connections, Redman was looking for a home for the theater company. He said, “I approached Duane totally on a whim. I was driving down Osseo Road. We were looking for a permanent space, I saw the Warren and wrote down the phone number. We met, we talked, and he said ‘Sure, that sounds like a good idea.’”

Workhouse began with a Readers’ Theater series in September, 2006 that included Jean Paul Sarte’s No Exit (in which Atter had a small part). In June, 2007, they performed A Company of Wayward Saints, and in October, David Mamet’s Oleanna.

“They do not pay for the space,” Atter said. (He also doesn’t charge artists for gallery space; they pay a 15 percent commission when their pieces sell.)

“I have so much fun [with Workhouse] and it brings people here. They’re here practically all the time. They rehearse here and have their meetings here. I became a full company member in May.”

He said he has also branched out in his photography because of the theater group. “I primarily like to do wildlife photography, landscapes, nature. People photographs were not my thing. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy taking theater production photos. I always take pictures from the beginning to the end of a production, and when they’re done I give the actors a CD. I take all their production and press photos.”

He said he tries to include the Workhouse staff “as much as possible in things that happen here. For the Fall Festival [a Victory Neighborhood Association event] they brought their Heritage Day Festival play here.”

Redman, who started out teaching acting on the North Side in 2005 as part of Minneapolis Public Schools’ community education program (classes are held at Patrick Henry High School), said they put on 10 shows of The Company of Wayward Saints over three weekends.

“That run played to 350 people. For Oleanna, we had 325 people attend nine shows.” Oleanna’s theme, he added, is sexual harassment at the university level. “We decided to see how far the North Side audience would go with us. The play ends with a question, whether it actually happened or if the student misinterpreted the professor’s intentions. We had two talkback nights, where the actors led discussions with the audience after the production. There were some lively debates.”

Redman said Workhouse recently received grants from St. Paul Travelers and Best Buy Children’s Foundation. “We are becoming more stable and viable. We can be here a long time. We are so happy that the relationship is working out. It’s been nice for the audiences, and there is plenty of free parking.” (Atter said Michael Parsons, owner of Parsons Preferred Dental next door, allows them to use his parking lot in the evenings.)

Atter, meanwhile, has formed business connections with nearby Papa’s Pizza (at 42nd and Thomas) and Rix, for actors to get discounts on meals. He is a member of the Northside Artists’ Collective (NAC) and the Northwest Minneapolis Business Association (which held its Fall Social at the Warren last November), and is involved with the Victory Neighborhood Association. He is also the new project coordinator for Holiday on 44th.

Last year’s artists’ lineup at the Warren included Christi Furnas, Jeana Sommers, Katie Vondracheck, and Adam Considine, and photographers Gene Steele, Jane Strauss, and Darrel Sodren. In addition to Workhouse Theater Company productions, the Warren hosted two plays performed by the Savage Umbrella company. Student art exhibits included students from the Hmong-Thailand community and Patrick Henry High School’s International Baccalaureate art program.

For information on The Warren, call 612-703-9609 or go to www.thewarrenhabitat.com. Workhouse Theatre Company’s box office number is 612-237-2014 or email info@workhouse theatre.org.

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