The second annual Arts in Wilmington Awards will take place January 20 at Expo 219 in downtown Wilmington. The awards will recognize the impact of local people, places and organizations who are strengthening the Port City as a place of vibrant color and artistic impact. Though it’s only year two for awards ceremony, the depth to which artists and businesses go to help promote and lift up Wilmington’s appeal has been ongoing for years. Star Sosa—owner of Spectrum Gallery, which is being recognized in the business category—can attest to as much is true.
“I love arty communities,” she tells. “I’ve lived in Sausalito and Santa Fe, and I felt a similar energy when I first visited downtown Wilmington in 1997.”
Sosa loved the cobblestone historic streets of our riverfront and the sandy beaches of our coastline so much she relocated here the same year. She already had traveled the country and exhibited at craft shows and fine galleries, and even ran Sosa Designs, a jewelry company. She decided to open her own gallery and jewelry shop downtown in Chandler’s Wharf.
“I reached out to local artists and brought in fine art, jewelry and art glass from artists I knew previously from selling on the American Craft circuit,” Sosa says. “Looking back at photos from my first year, I am amused by how artfully I spread out a relatively small inventory of items to fill the space.”
Sosa hoped for Spectrum to be multifaceted across the arts spectrum, so to speak. They hosted CD release parties—like for flamenco guitarist Paco Strickland (who passed away in 2012)—did fundraisers for arts groups and charities, and naturally held receptions for artists, from glass blowers to sculptors to jewelers.
“Spectrum and I have gone through significant evolution over the years,” Sosa admits. In 2000 she expanded her collection of jewelry and art and moved to the Wrighstville Beach area in The Forum shopping center. She experienced an increase of interest in custom-jewelry services, and even hired a goldsmith to expand services into repairs and unique creations.
She branched out in 2014 and ran two separate stores for Spectrum in the Forum, with one focusing on fine art and American Craft and one focused on fine jewelry. “In 2016 I opted to close the art gallery and focus primarily on the jewelry studio,” Sosa says. “I continue to carry some original local art and American Craft, but the primary emphasis is on handmade jewelry in gold, silver or platinum. . . . I’m afraid many art galleries have gone by the wayside in Wilmington. This is a challenging time for both artists and people who sell art. I think there is a distinct lack of venues for both established and emerging artists. So much of what the public buys now is mass-produced graphic art and not many have an appreciation of the value of original art. How does this get resolved?”
One way Sosa is focusing on such is to bring art to the public. Three years ago she began hosting an art event for the annual Azalea Fest called Plein Air Paint Out. The partnership with the Cape Fear Garden Club’s annual Azalea Garden Tour welcomed nine artists in its first year, 2015. They posted up in gardens on the tour and painted the environments around them live during the weekend-long tours.
“It’s a great partnership because their established event already attracted thousands of visitors and the featured gardens provided lovely settings for the artists to capture in their artworks,” Sosa notes.
Sosa contributes a percentage from all art sales to the charitable programs of the Garden Club held at a Wet Paint Sale and art show during the last day of the garden tours. Last year the event more-than doubled artist participation, up to 22, while 2018 will have many returning artists and hopefully fresh faces.
“This year the sale will be held at the Cape Fear Museum, which is a featured participant in the 2018 Garden Tour,” Sosa notes. “I hope to sell even more art given that the museum is a public venue with a highly visible location and tickets are not required to attend the art sale.”
Sosa also enlisted the help of artist Todd Carignan to do custom oil portraits of Azalea Belles. A portion of the sales proceeds goes back to the Garden Club as well.
Sosa will be recognized at the awards ceremony, among four other recipients (Ashley Barnes, individual artist; Opera House Theatre Company, organization; Leland Cultural Arts Center, government; and Tracey Varga, individual).
“Star has a great attitude toward the role of the arts in our community,” Craig Stinson, founder of Arts in Wilmington, says. “She believes they are critical to quality of life, but also acts upon that belief by networking with businesses, artists, and community events in way that create new opportunities for the local community.”