Artists take up residence in new incubator space

The official grand opening celebration of the new craft incubator space at the former Customs House building will be held on October 18 from 3-6 p.m.

SYDNEY: There will be an official opening for a new craft incubator space in Port Hawkesbury.

In the spring, the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design launched its Craft Incubator program, in partnership with the Town of Port Hawkesbury, and earlier this month, the town welcomed several new residents.

Following a Canada-wide search, four artists were selected to take up residence in the former Customs House on Granville Street.

“The four artists have arrived, so it’s now up and running,” said Lori Burke, executive director for Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design. “They’re really keen to build their craft businesses and become involved in the community.”

Photos by Jake Boudrot
Silversmith Natasha Matthews gives a private class to Louise Russell on wire wrapping. In addition to classes, and work for businesses, the craft incubator can provide goods and services for the general public.

The program will give the artists access to a newly-renovated studio with subsidized rent and a retail space where they can display and sell their work. They will also receive business development support, including training sessions on building and maintaining Web sites, pricing their work, grant writing, and accounting. Artists must agree to stay for a minimum of one year with the option of renewing their residency for up to three years.

“Our hope is that they become settled in Port Hawkesbury and the surrounding areas and that they end up staying with us,” said Burke.

Textile artist Josie Robinson uses dyes from plants, as well as rusted metal.

The group of artists in residence includes Natasha Matthews, a jewelry artist who recently arrived from Winnipeg, as well as leather goods artist Kyle McPhee who has returned home to Cape Breton from Ontario to take part in the program. The studio also features potter Tessa Reed from Vancouver, who creates functional pieces, often featuring whimsical animals, and Josie Robinson, a textile artist from Robson Valley, British Columbia who specializes in plant-based dyes and pigments.

“These are small business owners coming in to start their careers in Port Hawkesbury and wanting to be here. That’s not something that happens in a small community every single day,” said Burke. “I think it needs to be celebrated that this is important to the sustainability and vitality of the community.”

Beginning this fall, the public can take part in variety of courses being offered by the artists, including jewelry making, pottery, and dyeing cloth. Burke said the courses are a great learning opportunity for community members, and will allow the artists to supplement their income during the fall and winter months.

Burke also hopes to engage young people by partnering with local schools to bring the artists into the classroom.

The retail space has been open since July and has been attracting locals and tourists alike.

“Now that the artists are there and people are becoming more aware of it, they are coming in more often,” said Burke.

Leather worker Kyle McPhee offers custom pieces and services for local businesses.

Burke has been working with the Visitor Information Centre in Port Hastings and Destination Cape Breton to help promote the studio. She said the artists are thrilled with the space and are brainstorming ways to get the word out.

“They’re planning to open up a little coffee space within the Customs House to get more people to come in,” said Burke. “They’re even talking about doing their own little events to encourage other businesses to come and see what they’re doing.”

Burke said organizers are still accepting applications from artists.

“We’re still looking for another clay artist and a weaver, and possibly another jewelry artist as well,” said Burke. “So there could be up to three more artists moving into the community within the next couple months.”

Burke encourages people to visit capebretoncraft.com to register for courses. The studio is open to the public Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the official grand opening celebration will be held on October 18 from 3-6 p.m.

“We’re inviting the community and partners to come and have a look around to see the space and get to know the artists,” said Burke.

Silversmith Natasha Matthews can spend days, or hours, creating items out of metal.