Friday, November 13, 2015

Holyoke Opens Creative Cooperative Incubator

Citizens interested in promoting community development through the arts and creative industries have found a new ally in Olde Holyoke Development Corporation, a Holyoke CDC that owns and operates several downtown properties. This October, Olde Holyoke made a portion of the vacant building at 207 Elm Street available to social entrepreneurs to incubate community development projects at no cost except for a contribution towards the utility bill.

Collaborating with the ARTery, an initiative through the Holyoke Creative Arts Center (HCAC) to provide development resources to local Creatives, Olde Holyoke is providing this space to grow community programs into sustainable enterprises while simultaneously activating one of their unused properties - and they are not done yet. “We have a handful of storefronts like this,” said Michael Moriarty, President of Olde Holyoke Development Corporation. “We want to nurture people who have a passion to help the community, so they can develop the capacity to become commercial enterprises that put empty spaces to good economic use. That way we fill our buildings and giving our neighborhoods new life,” Moriarty said.

Formerly a facility of Holyoke’s River Valley Counseling Center, Olde Holyoke has plans to replace the building to make way for an affordable home ownership project. However, according to Moriarty, demolition will not beginning for at least another 12-18 months. “In the meantime it’s a win for everyone,” he adds, “this project is aligned with Olde Holyoke’s mission to foster community and economic development. We don’t want an empty building to manage, and the programs have time to get off the ground to eventually take on a more permanent space once they have the know-how and resources to do so.”

Tejo Holyoke, a weaving project primarily serving women from the Latino community, was the first group to move into the cooperative incubator at 207 Elm after founder and director Katy Moonan connected with Moriarty and pitched the need for a donated space. “We have big goals this year and without a space that can support our growth we would not come close to achieving them. We are so grateful for the inspiring leadership demonstrated by Michael Moriarty and the team at Olde Holyoke. They are taking a real stand for grassroots efforts by providing this opportunity” said Moonan. Participants in Tejo Holyoke weave rugs and other textiles from recycled t-shirts and rags on antique, hand operated looms. The program plans to become a sustainable social enterprise dedicated to increasing financial stability for women in Holyoke, supported in part by generate sales from their woven products.

Tejo Holyoke will not be alone in the incubator. In the room next door Jennifer Smith from the Children’s Study Home is working with HCAC instructor Gary Clark, and an entire woodshop’s worth of donated equipment to start-up a furniture-refinishing program for local youth. Once online the woodshop will help 16-22 year olds develop the skills needed to build, refinish and upholster furniture to sell. The shop will double as a classroom and makerspace to grow other HCAC programming.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation isn’t just about immediate fiscal reward. To empower people to make better lives with their innate creativity was a natural fit for ARTery,” said the City’s Creative Economy Coordinator Jeffrey Bianchine. “Our human capital is our most valuable resource. Olde Holyoke is filling a real demand by providing residents an important piece of the puzzle.”

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