Cape Breton Centre for Arts, Culture and Innovation grant is money well spent

The convent will transform into a cultural hub with permanent homes for 150 artists and innovators including musicians, dancers, and theatre groups.

When it comes to spending taxpayers’ money, governments occasionally get things right.

A $3.2 million contribution to help transform the former Holy Angels Convent in north end Sydney into the Cape Breton Centre for Arts, Culture and Innovation is, we believe, one of those times.

Yes, we know all about roads that need paving and long emergency room waits, but $3.2 million is not going to come close to solving those problems. Not today anyway.

It does, however, go a long way towards repurposing the 132-year-old former convent into a centre that will provide affordable space for artists, social enterprises and not-for-profit organizations.

In other words it will serve as an offshoot from the many activities already taking place at the nearby former Holy Angels School, which was built in 1958 and is now known as the New Dawn Centre for Social Innovation.

The fact that both buildings are even still standing is due in large part to New Dawn Enterprises and the vision shown by its president Rankin MacSween. Without it, another chapter could have been written here. One that didn’t celebrate Cape Breton cultural innovation. One that would eventually bemoan the missed opportunity.

It could have happened something like this: after the convent, school and the 2.5 acres of land on which the buildings sat came up for sale in 2011, the buildings could have been demolished and apartments might have sprung up in their place. Or it could have remained a vacant lot of land for years without development. So much history gone.

Fortunately, MacSween and company saw its potential and within 18 months of purchasing the property they had filled the former school with tenants – many of which represent the local tech sector and artistic community.

Now, the convent will transform into a cultural hub and exterior conceptual drawings of the redevelopment look very impressive. Inside, a permanent home for 150 artists and innovators including musicians, dancers and dance studios, and theatre groups will be provided.

Though New Dawn is kicking in $1 million the complete transformation will take more money, about another $7.8 million in total. Perhaps additional funding sources will be made available through the federal government’s Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency once the next provincial election is in the books. Let’s hope.

At the end of the day the new centre is designed to stimulate Cape Breton’s creative economy. It’s not easy to place a value on that but the money being provided to make it happen is, we believe, money well spent.

Originally appeared in...

Cape Breton Post, April 6, 2017