A tribute to Sharon Fosmo

Editor’s note: The following profile of Sharon Fosmo is the first is a series of features on area residents who have played a part in establishing the Bonifas Fine Arts Center and who have been involved in developing and conducting the programs the center has offered throughout the years.

ESCANABA – “I’ve been there since the beginning of time,” says Sharon Fosmo.

“There” in this case is the Bonifas Arts Center, and the beginning of time is pre-BAC.

“At one time there was an Upper Peninsula Crafts Council that did shows around the area,” Fosmo said. “We decided here in Escanaba that we could have the Delta County Council for the Arts, and about 80 people came to the Christian Park social room to talk about it. John Gustafson, Dick Hanson, Alice Powers, Joann Leffel – there were lots of people there, but it fizzled out.”

She continued, “So a little later we tried again and organized Bay Arts (Bay Area Art Association or BAAA). Alice Powers was the first president, and I was the second. But to me, the important part of the organization was that we were looking for a home for the arts right here in Delta County.”

Fosmo says she spent time talking to Escanaba city officials, including Jim Anzalone after St. Joseph Church gave their unused auditorium/gymnasium building to the city, about the possibility of using the empty building for an arts center.

“Five guys from the Michigan Council for the Arts came for a walk-through of the building,” Fosmo says. “At that time the gym was used to store mattresses from Bonefeld’s. These guys from MCA were amazed. They were so impressed with the facility, the woodwork and the auditorium. They said, ‘People downstate are using barns, and making arts centers out of nothing. This is fabulous!'”

After acquiring rights to the building, the new Arts Center volunteers created Gallery and Studio space. “We had burlap on the walls,” Fosmo said. “That was the beginning.”

A retired art teacher and native Yooper, Fosmo (called “the Foz”) is an Upper Peninsula original. She was raised in Negaunee, graduated from Northern Michigan University, and has taught at Rock, Rapid River, Hannahville, and North Central schools. “I LOVE teaching,” she said.

She’s always been interested in art, too. As a painter going back to college with two children and a husband, Fosmo paid her college tuition by selling at art fairs like Art on the Rock. She majored in art and minored in art, with a painting major and minors in print making, photography, film, and metals.

“I worked for the Arts Center, too, as the facilitator of the Confined Program. We had a grant to take art to those who were confined for one reason or another, so I worked with private home-bound students, Lakestates, the jail, hospital, and nursing homes. I loved it!” she says.

“We are just so fortunate to have the Arts Center,” she adds. “I worked with a lot of other people to get it going, and then I just kind of dropped out of Bay Arts. For me, it was a group that was finding the Arts a home in the area, and I assumed that once we had the home the group would dissolve.”

BAAA continued in existence as a grassroots organization promoting both professional and amateur artists until 2012, leaving a legacy that includes annual open membership shows, free summer concerts in the park, and the annual Waterfront Art Festival.

As a lifelong artist, why does she think the Arts are important? Why should anyone pay attention to an Arts Center?

“Art is everywhere,” she says. “It’s everything you do. Everything we use has to be designed packages for instance. In the store, why do you choose one package over another? That’s art. You choose colors and designs unconsciously in everything you do. People ask why Art is important, and I tell them art is critical thinking. It’s not rote like memorizing an answer, it’s visualizing in your head what you have to say to the world.”

She added, “The Arts Center is also a reason people move here. They hear we have an Arts Center, and that helps form their positive impressions that cause them to move here and become a part of the community. It’s a real good calling card for the area.”

Fosmo admits that since retiring she’s slowed down somewhat on her art production (although she created several pieces for the Sesquicentennial Exhibit at the Arts Center). She’s missed her students, she says, “though they remember me.”