Contributed photo. The new Craft Incubator program will be housed in the former customs building on Granville Street.

PORT HAWKESBURY: The Strait area may be welcoming some new artists in the near future.

The Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design is collaborating with the Town of Port Hawkesbury to launch a three-year Craft Incubator program in the former Customs House building on Granville Street.

“The town had expressed interest in doing some development on the waterfront in Port Hawkesbury with municipally owned vacant spaces,” said Lori Burke, executive director at Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design. “This got me thinking about what opportunities there are and what we could bring to the table.”

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Burke said she was inspired by programs in Newfoundland and Kentucky that provide low rent studio space for emerging artists along with support for business development.

“The town had this space, and they were willing to try something different and look at economic and community development in a different way rather than just through big industry,” said Burke.

With the funding from the province, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and Cape Breton Partnership, the Craft Incubator program will offer fully equipped, subsidized studio and retail space to seven emerging clay, jewelry, and textile artists at a cost of $125 per month. It will be an open studio where artists can share ideas and display their work to the public. The artists will also receive training to help them launch their craft businesses.

“This is about business development. We will be offering some foundational courses,” said Burke. “This includes courses like learning how to price their work, how to do their book-keeping, taxation, selling, marketing, and going to trade shows.”

Renovations to the future site are currently underway, and Burke expects the space to be ready by mid-May. She hopes to begin welcoming artists this summer.

Organizers have launched a national campaign that has already attracted the interest of artists throughout Canada and the United States. She is asking participants to remain in the program for a minimum of one year with the option to renew their residency for up to three years.

“Of course we’re accepting applications from Cape Breton and Nova Scotia, but we’re really putting this across the country because part of it for us is the relocation of people to the island,” Burke said.

Burke believes the program will provide many benefits to the surrounding community, such as bringing new people and businesses into the local economy and enriching the local tourism market. The artists may also offer community workshops and partner with local schools to offer craft programming.

“We see both the economic and social impact of the craft sector for the community of Port Hawkesbury,” said Burke. “I think it’s really important that we offer more craft programming and educational programming in the community.”

Paula Davis, director of marketing, recreation, tourism and culture for the Town of Port Hawkesbury has been working with Burke to develop the project.

“The town has a long history of supporting cultural initiatives and recognized this was a wonderful opportunity for the community,” Davis told The Reporter via e-mail.

She said the Craft Incubator program is a chance to attract new members to the community who may decide to make Port Hawkesbury their home.

“We have formed a small group who will be providing support to the artists while putting down roots,” said Davis.

Applications are due on May 18. Burke is also searching for housing for the artists and asks anyone who may have a space for rent to contact the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design. For information, visit: capebretoncraft.com/customshouse.