Sunday, April 8, 2012

Potsdam arts incubator project aims for new businesses

Village officials hope vacant downtown storefronts soon will fill up with arts-themed businesses.

The village is set to launch its arts microenterprise and incubator project. Potsdam received $100,000 to launch the program several months ago as part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s first award to the North Country Regional Economic Council.

Planning and Development Director Frederick J. Hanss said the funding hopefully will help launch up to eight to 10 arts-themed businesses.

“Potsdam has the reputation of being the arts and cultural capital of the north country,” Mr. Hanss said. “I hope it cements our reputation. ... I would hope it would make downtown Potsdam a more interesting place for visiting.”

The funding would be used as “seed money” for arts entrepreneurs to set up their business, Mr. Hanss said. An informational session will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Potsdam Civic Center Community Room. Those who cannot attend that meeting will have another chance at 7 p.m. April 24.

“We’ll walk them through the application process and the eligibility process,” Mr. Hanss said. “We’re being pretty open for eligible use of funds.”

The program will accept a wide variety of applicants, from an artist seeking to open a gallery, a potter who intends to sell products or a musician who repairs instruments, Mr. Hanss said.

“They have to present a body of work that’s original and innovative,” Mr. Hanss said. “We’re focused on new businesses. They’re the ones that typically need a leg up.”

A panel from the arts community will determine who can be admitted to the program, Mr. Hanss said. Applicants will have to complete a 10-week course to develop a business and marketing plan for their proposal before receiving any funding, which the village will distribute.

Discounted space in Clarkson University’s Old Snell Hall will serve as an “incubator” for successful applicants.

After a period of time, the businesses hopefully would move into downtown storefronts, Mr. Hanss said.

“Nobody has really applied it to this particular segment of the economy,” Mr. Hanss said. “I don’t think anyone has done this in rural parts of New York state.”

Mr. Hanss and Hillary Oak, executive director of the St. Lawrence County Arts Council, each have received five or six inquiries into the program over the last several months.

The program is co-sponsored by the village and the arts council.

Ms. Oak said the funding could be used to help reduce the business rent or pay for marketing expenses.

“If they have an interest in starting or expanding an arts-related business, these funds might help them,” Ms. Oak said. “We want to make sure businesses that use these funds are sustainable. As far as we know, this is the first microenterprise grant program geared specifically to the arts. Hopefully by next year, we’ll have some new businesses that have been given a boost by this program.”

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