A historic building. A contemporary space. A creative community to inspire artists, residents and visitors.

The Convent/Ta’n etl-mawita’mk Centre of the Arts is located in Kjikank (Sydney), Unama'ki (Cape Breton), and features 21 artist studios, a large Open Studio with 22 artist work spaces, the Better Bite Café and Community Kitchen, Meals on Wheels, and four anchor tenants – the Nova Scotia Community College Music Arts Program, Celtic Colours International Festival, The Coast 89.7 FM Radio Station, and Nova Stream.

About Us

The Convent/Ta’n etl-mawita’mk is 36,000 sq ft Centre of the Arts that is operated by New Dawn Enterprises. It is governed by an Elders Advisory Committee comprised of Elders from the Island’s five Mi’kmaw communities. The Elders Advisory Committee works to ensure that the building and its programming are safe, welcoming, and relevant to Mi’kmaw artists and community members. We also convene an Advisory Committee that consists of artists, tenants, and members of the creative community across Unama’ki/Cape Breton.

We strongly believe in all the benefits of the arts to communities — their ability to transform places, give people hope, give people a new way to see themselves and the world, start conversations, connect, challenge, bring joy.

To this end, we want to make the arts more visible — to give people a place to work that is safe, inclusive, affordable, and beautiful.

Mission

To make space that nurtures creation, connects artists with each other and with the community, and invites engagement with the arts as a means of individual and community empowerment for a more honest and just society.

Vision

An open, vibrant, creative, supportive, and experimental space for arts and social change.

Transformation of the building: 1885–Today

1885: Sisters of The Congregation of Notre Dame establish the Holy Angels Convent

In 1885 the Sisters of The Congregation of Notre Dame, with the assistance of the parishioners of Sacred Heart Church and their priest Fr. James Quinan who lead the initiative, built the first all-girls boarding and day-school East of Montreal. In its 126-year history, the Holy Angels Convent was the place of learning for hundreds of girls living in Sydney, NS and the surrounding areas.

From the very beginning, the curriculum offered at Holy Angels, apart from catechism lessons, focused on the fine arts. Classes in music, visual arts, theatre, and dance were important elements of the education received by students, the results of which were shared with the nearby community through performances and exhibitions.

2011: New Dawn purchases the property — A New Beginning

Following the closure of the high school in 2011, New Dawn purchased the property in 2013 and began to assess how it might be reused. In 2014/15, New Dawn enlisted the help of Lord Cultural Resources to conduct a series of community consultations that would lead to a new vision for the property. With the concept of an arts centre in hand, New Dawn staff visited several similar Centres in Toronto and Moncton to learn about the operations and development of similar centres.

2017: Renovations begin on Canada’s newest Arts & Culture Centre

In 2017, Nova Scotia Communities, Culture, and Heritage committed $3.2 million towards the transformation of The Convent and the Government of Canada committed $5.5 million to the Convent as one of four creative hubs in Canada, alongside others in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. With this initial funding secured, renovations began in the Convent in 2017.

Renovations have included demolition and abatement (asbestos and lead), structural assessments and reinforcements, civil services upgrades, new building envelope, windows, and roof, building circulation alterations (north stair and south stair), accessibility upgrades (elevator, door size, washrooms), new heating, ventilation and air conditioning infrastructure, masonry repair, interior partitions, and new plumbing and washrooms.

These renovations have been guided by a substantive design team that includes Trifos Design Consultants (Architects of Record), DTAH (Design Architects), DORA (Construction and Project Management), ONSA (Mechanical and Electrical Design), Entro (Environmental Design), and Blackwell (Structural Engineers), in a construction management build.

2020: Re-opening

When the Convent re-opens it will be home to four larger arts organization tenants, three meeting/presentation spaces (15 people, 40 people, and 100 people), an open lounge/cafe and community kitchen (operated by the Better Bite Community Kitchen and New Dawn Meals on Wheels), and over 40 independent artists and artist collectives within 21 private studio spaces and 22 furnished spaces in a large open studio.