2017 Individual: Jim & Betsy Knowles

Individual Criteria:  Individual category is open to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional achievement and impact through their leadership, support, and advancement of the arts.

“Get yourself a community and you will build each other up.”  —  Betsy Knowles on converting the empty Block Shirt Factory into theArtWorks

Jim and Betsty Knowles are owners of theArtWorks, an active “arts village” located at the corner of Willard and Front Streets in the emerging South Front warehouse district.  theArtWorks houses working studios for 50 artists, a gallery space, and event space.

Life in Wilmington for the Knowles was originally not about art.  Betsy worked as an insurance adjuster and Jim worked in sales.  They eventually started their own business selling plumbing supplies for R.V.s and boats and also renting antique cars to the film industry.  They needed space, and in 1988 purchased the Block Shirt Factory.

By 2005, they had sold their business to a corporation with facilities outside of Wilmington and by 2008, the new business owners moved, leaving Jim & Betsy with an empty warehouse.  A friend told them, “You need to open this up to artists.”  This got them thinking.

“What’s it all about?” asks Jim.  “You are here to help others.  You’ve heard the saying that you can build on sand or you can build on rock.  Well, we believe in building on art.  Art is the rock.”

An initial ad on craigslist for available studio space generated over 40 responses.  They quickly organized interested artists into a meeting where they decided on space they needed.  Jim built the studios himself, allowing artists to customize to their needs.  “We wanted an art city under our roof,” says Jim.  The result is a cityscape where visitors can wander through streets lined with individual artist studios.

Sustainability is essential, so in addition to studio space, Betsy organizes learning opportunities for the artists that include marketing and business classes.  They idea has worked and they are currently home to 50 working artists.  Betsy says, “Get yourself a community and you will build each other up.”

The artists at theArtWorks love the space and working environment.  Artists call is “a place to interact,” filled with “kindness, encouragement, vision, and creative energy.”

For Jim & Betsy, a vision is worthless without action and motive.  In the end, “it’s all about the why.  If it’s all about you, it’s the wrong why.”

Find more about theArtWorks:

(V.1 / 12-31-16 by CS)


Join us at The Arts In Wilmington Awards on January 28

Purchase your ticket here:  AIWAwards.Eventbrite.com


Our Sponsors:  The Arts In Wilmington Awards are made possible with a generous award from PNC Bank with additional support from Intracoastal Realty and Arts Friendly


Information:  Contact Craig Stinson at 910-524-2679 or Email