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The Unexpected Project: Murals will pop up in downtown Fort Smith

The Unexpected Project: Murals will pop up in downtown Fort Smith
What will appear on the blank walls of downtown Fort Smith?

Eight artists will soon begin to show us as the public is invited to watch enormous, diverse images emerge during The Unexpected Project’s Festival of Murals. The street art will materialize at the hands of significant American and international artists Sept. 4-13.

A 10-block area downtown will become an outdoor gallery for street art during the same month a new permanent gallery and studios open at the Windgate Art & Design Building at University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.

This convergence of art events is not accidental, but it is unexpected – hence the name of this project conceived by Steve Clark, the businessman currently renovating one of downtown’s landmark buildings as a new headquarters for Propak Logistics, one of his ventures. Other local companies and individuals have joined Clark to underwrite the mural festival, according to festival director John McIntosh.

Clark’s affinity for public art, graffiti writers and “street” galleries has resulted, even before this month’s festival, in his sponsorship of several existing, gigantic, local works. Almost everyone who travels Garrison Avenue can see a portrait of military hero William O. Darby painted at the U.S. Post Office parking lot by the Irish street artist called Maser.

Fewer people, perhaps, have driven to the far end of the Quarry Shopping Center to turn back and regard Maser’s previous work (there have been two; the present art was a collaboration of Maser and with another Irish artist, Conor Harrington)?on the exterior wall of Boardertown Skate Park. Local skaters know the interior of the skatepark, also established by Clark, is covered from floor to ramps to halfpipes with art created by notable graffiti writers.

Conventional genre labels slide off this “outsider” art form like wet spray paint dripping down a wall. Whatever the eight artists selected by Charlotte Dutoit, an experienced designer of large-scale art events and gallery shows, choose to produce, the resulting artwork will, indeed, be unexpected.

Maser has worked with Dutoit on several projects, including the Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas and Coachella, the arts and music festival held in Palm Springs, Calif. Visiting Fort Smith in March, she instantly saw the potential of its downtown area as a giant canvas.

“Downtown Fort Smith could be poised to become the largest outdoor art gallery in the state,” she observed. Some of the work will last and some will degrade naturally until it fades from the walls. Dutoit sent invitations to artists worldwide. The group who will be painting here Sept. 6-13 are:

Vhils, a native of Portugal and popular urban graffiti artist in Europe
D*Face, or Dean Stockton, a U.K. artist Roa, a Belgian muralist who, like Banksey, keeps his identity secret
Askew One (replaced Ben Eine after press time) of New Zealand

Ana Maria of Houston, via Puerto Rico, a muralist
Bicicleta Sem Freio, a team of Brazilians known worldwide Spoken-word artists

Malcolm London and Kevin Coval, Chicago poets and activists, are a part of the invited collective of artists. They perform Sept. 10. Local artists are invited to an Art in the Park day Sept. 12.

More of the artists' works can be seen at 646downtown.com.


SEPT. 3 | 6-9 p.m.
Gallery Exhibit reception, opening UAFS Windgate Art & Design Building

SEPT. 4 | all day
Mural painting begins in downtown Fort Smith Spectators welcome

SEPT. 10 | 6 p.m.
Spoken Word Night
Poets Malcolm London and Kevin Coval
The Blue Lion 101 North 2nd Street

SEPT. 12-13 | all day
Artists complete their murals.

SEPT. 12 | all day
Ross Pendergraft Park
Splash the Deck contest student winners announced for skateboard deck art.

Sept. 4-12 | 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Open daily
521 Garrison Avenue (former Sacred Grounds)

This story appears in the September 2015 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online