Nova Scotia

Former convent turning into arts, culture hub in downtown Sydney

A 130-year-old former convent in downtown Sydney, N.S., has undergone renovations and is set to open this spring as a new arts and cultural hub.

New Dawn Enterprises says the $15M project should be open to the public in a couple of months

John Gainer says the 'rabbit warren' containing nuns' bedrooms in the 130-year-old former Holy Angels convent has been transformed into an open, light-filled studio space for artists. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

A new arts and culture hub is set to open this spring in a renovated 130-year-old former convent in downtown Sydney, N.S.

New Dawn Enterprises, a local non-profit social development agency, bought the former Holy Angels convent in 2013 and is putting in more than 20 art studios and workspaces it will rent to artists and art groups.

The building, which will be called The Convent, will include a public gallery and café and has received about $10 million in government funding, including a $1.4-million grant announced on Friday by Invest Nova Scotia.

John Gainer, a New Dawn board member, said the transformation has been incredible.

"The fourth floor where the sisters lived was essentially a rabbit warren of simple bedrooms," he said. "Now, it's an open space, open to the light and open to shared studio spaces that will allow for a collaborative, creative energy.

The Convent has been designed as a very large community art gallery. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"The architects and the designers have created an incredibly beautiful piece of architecture. With that, it still remains an empty building. The Invest Nova Scotia contribution of $1.4 million allows New Dawn to move the project along and essentially put the strings on a Stradivarius."

Gainer said the latest grant will pay for furnishings, signage and consultation with local First Nations representatives on ways to add Indigenous components to the arts and culture hub.

"It will provide a range of things that make the space liveable and allow the artistic and creative energies that are intended here to get an early start," he said.

Tenants will begin moving in next week

Erika Shea, New Dawn's vice-president of development, said tenants will start moving in on Monday, but it will take a couple of months for the spaces to fill and for tenants to settle in.

Shea said The Convent will be open to the public after that.

"The building has been designed to be a very large community art gallery, so come the spring, we really want anyone who's curious ... to come and wander around the building and to take in the sights and the sounds of the artists and to meet the arts organizations," she said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 17 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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