It Starts with the Arts

by Nov 13, 2023Across the Cape Fear, North Brunswick, Wilmington

At theArtWorks in Wilmington, Jim and Betsy Knowles are continually creating a space where artists thrive, community grows and education is fostered.

Jim and Betsy Knowles, Port City residents since 1993, have owned the original Block Shirt factory building at 200 Willard Street near Greenfield Lake Park since 1998. The 37,000-square-foot warehouse has been used for classic automobile storage for the movies and then had a stint in the plastic manufacturing business before lying vacant for a time.

During this period of vacancy, the Knowles were approached by an artist friend about renting a piece of their warehouse for an art studio. This was the humble beginning of theArtWorks, a unique, living building and blossoming, supportive community of artists, teachers and students.

On Christmas of 2012, Jim posted a Craigslist ad asking local artists if there was a need and/or interest in “reasonably priced studio spaces.” The Knowles received 36 calls.

They began to partition the floor of the warehouse using tape, laying the blueprint to create 50-plus working studios. From tape, they moved to simple wall partitions, and from there, the final design came. Modeled after the 1800s New Orleans French Quarter and using collected housing materials from demolished homes and local ReStores, the duly named Art Village reached its most recent form.

The Art Works Wilmington NC Owners

While the visual canvas of the Art Village is ever-changing, it provides resident artists and craftsmen 24/7/365 access to their private studios to work, play and creatively express their crafts. In the Art Village, they are part of a community of other artists and artisans and have the support of theArtWorks behind them, which includes things like a podcast booth plus a podcast producer if needed; an art gallery where the public can come to view and purchase the fine art that is made here; and classes on how to sell and platform art.

The Art Village is also open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 am to 5 pm and on Sundays from 12 to 5 pm.

Visitors can walk the streets named after famous painters and visionaries, seeing where the art is made in studios of painters, potters, boatbuilders, musicians and more. From the Art Village, they can make their way into Gallery Verrazano or the gift shop to purchase work from the artists they just saw at work.

Separate from the Art Village, theArtWorks also provides several event spaces including the main event space, Gallery Verrazano, the gift shop and two classrooms. All are available to the public to be reserved and rented. Recent events that have taken place in the Gallery Verrazano include the Wilmington Fashion Week Designer Show, the Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity Upscale Resale and the North Carolina Azalea Festival Art unveiling.

The Art Works Wilmington NC Studio

When Gallery Verrazano is not hosting an event, it acts as theArtWorks fine art gallery, complete with movable walls to keep the space fresh and alive. The fine art gallery is open to both artists of the Art Village and outside artists. Every piece of handmade, original art in the gallery and gift shop is available for purchase.

Other theArtWorks event spaces include two classrooms for local artists and teachers to teach classes to the public. Classes include crafts like crochet, embroidery and jewelry making; skills like photography, painting, music and glass blowing; and unique exercise classes like the Bounce 4 Health with live drumming (a low-intensity interval training exercise class involving trampolines) and aerial yoga. Adults can also treat themselves to wine and painting in the Art by the Glass class after dropping their kids off at The Creative Child Studio, which provides classes for children of all ages, ranging from after-school care to toddler time.

Class information is available on the website at

theArtWorks is a flagship of design and purpose in the world of the arts, art support and education. The Knowles’ goal for theArtWorks is to develop Wilmington into an international art destination. They believe this is done through classes for the public, supporting local artists and providing a space where artists and enjoyers of art can come together and champion all the arts, including visual, literary and performing.

The Knowles are also active on local art councils and boards. Lobbying as art advocates, they secure grants for artists to continue their work. theArtWorks is also a sponsor and member of ARTS Day in North Carolina, an advocacy group for local art.

The Art Works Wilmington NC Showroom

It is all a part of the Knowles’ philosophy about the power of art.

“If you want a great nation, it demands a great education, and it all starts with the arts,” says Jim, an artist himself, who works in color pencil, metal sculpture, clay sculpture and more.

Patrons and enjoyers of art are encouraged to regularly visit theArtWorks, the Art Village and Gallery Verrazano. They are always welcome to enroll in classes, attend events and purchase artists’ work, so that theArtWorks can continue to meet each individual artist’s need and supporting them in their endeavors.

Want to go?
200 Willard Street, Wilmington
(910) 352-7077

The Art Village is also open to the public on Thursday to Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm and on Sunday from 12 to 5 pm. A comprehensive list of the studio and residential artists and their specializations can be found at When visiting the Art Village, theArtWorks asks that you only visit artists with open studio doors in order to respect the privacy of other resident artists and their creative processes.

Upcoming Events
Fourth Friday Gallery Nights
Monthly, 6 to 9 pm
Part of the larger Fourth Friday Gallery Night Art Crawl, sponsored by the Art Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County.

Wildlife Artists of the Carolinas
October 27 to November 24

Photography by Megan Deitz