Major players from the Cape Breton arts community are hopeful funding for a major study into the conversion of a former convent and school into an arts centre will be the first step toward getting such a centre up and running.
- The province and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality announced Tuesday that they are funding a study looking at the conversion of the recently purchased former Holy Angels Convent and High School into a centre dedicated to the arts, creativity and innovation. The province is contributing $80,000 to the study while the CBRM is contributing $20,000.
The study was announced at the former Holy Angels site by Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Minister Graham Steele, Cape Breton Nova MLA Gordie Gosse, CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke and representatives from New Dawn Enterprises.
“I think what it means to have two provincial departments and the municipality involved in the development side here in terms of the study really indicates that they’re behind this project and that they’ll be there in the future, so it’s very exciting,” said Celtic Colour co-founder and executive director Joella Foulds after the announcement. “I think everybody now recognizes that the cultural industries and the arts and culure sector have a great potential here for developing the economy but also this part of Sydney, so the fact that they stepped up and said ‘Yes, let’s get involved,’ is very significant.”
Gary Walsh, an actor and former drama teacher who now runs the Cabot Trail Writers Festival, said the study could potentially mean good news not only for the local arts community but also the community in general.
“It means a lot for Sydney, a lot for the north end and, really, a lot for the arts and the creative community,” said Walsh. “The people who are involved in this, who are interested in this, who have a lot of ideas, have a lot of potential to turn this into a really exciting, world-class venture that would be admired by anyone. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of backing from government, so that’s really important. I’m really excited.”
New Dawn Enterprises bought the former all-girls school in May. They have begun community consultations to see what the public wants from the space and, according to New Dawn spokeswoman Erika Shea, it’s full of possibilities.
“Coming out of the community consultations we’ll be able to draft a business plan that looks at the viability and sustainability over time of the property and the project, as well as future architectural assessments that are going to reflect the community’s vision for this space,” said Shea. “The potential is quite significant — its potential is that we have a focal point in a way for the creative economy in Cape Breton, particularly in the performing arts, that there’s a possibility of a downtown performance space. It’s also significant in that it gives the community some place to gather — to have conversation, to celebrate, to reflect in the downtown core.”
Shea said a consultant will be selected by September to look after the study, which they hope to have wrapped up by the end of December.
“So that come Jan. 1, we’ll have a most excellent sense of where this project is headed,” she said.
The study will identify what needs to be changed in a building that is pretty much move-in ready.
“It’s an exciting idea that’s been put forward by New Dawn so we’re really pleased to help them take it to the next step,” said Steele. “New Dawn is a great organization that has lots of ideas and they have a vision about using the Holy Angels site as a place where creative people come together and create all the synergies that happen when people are all in the same place. We need to make sure that it is an idea that can work, and so the next step is a feasibility study but we’re really hopeful that the site will grow and become something new and different and a real focus for the creative industries here in Cape Breton.”
Clarke said the study is an opportunity to breathe new life into the area.
“Oft times, one of the barriers to development is actually having a roof over your head and lights on,” said Clarke. “If you can bring many different people together for different purposes, then that provides the synergy but also better economics and also a vibrant hub in the downtown core of Sydney.
“I think it’s a win-win all the way around.”