By Julianne G. Crane
Since 2015, downtown Fort Smith, Arkansas, has been transforming itself with the support of a determined local community and the creativity of an amazing group of renowned visual artists from around the world. Over the five-year period, The Unexpected art project has resulted in a treasure collection of 35 public art pieces including outdoor murals, installations and sculptures.
The Unexpected brings free and accessible urban and contemporary art, music and speakers to Arkansas and Fort Smith. Coordinated by the local non-profit 64.6 Downtown, five annual festivals have been curated by JustKids, a network of curators, artists, designers and art consultants, who conceive, produce and promote “comprehensive art projects on an international scale.”
One major installation was in autumn 2019 when famed multidisciplinary artist Okuda San Miguel’s “Rainbow Embassy” (see above) give new life to a neglected old house near a local junior high school. The colorful “Embassy” now provides “a new space for wonder, vibrancy and play to its young neighbors and tight knit community.”
Part of a revitalization project, The Unexpected has helped transition a slightly dated old west town into a world-class destination for unique urban and contemporary public art.
Among the many highly sought-after international artists who have created work are: D*Face of the United Kingdom, Ana Maria of Puerto Rico, Askew of New Zealand, Guido Van Helten of Australia, Okuda San Miguel of Spain, Maser of Ireland, and Bicicleta Sem Freio of Brazil.
Annual autumn festival on hold
There is usually an annual, week-long autumn festival that adds to The Unexpected collection of creative works. In addition to the international artists’ contributions, the festival features shows by local artists, and projects involving local high school and college art students. There are also a variety of activities on art, music and cultural experiences.
Each year during the festival, local residents are known to watch the artists at work from lawn chairs planted in parking lots, according to news reports.
As of late July 2020, however, the coronavirus pandemic has put this year’s plans on hold.
“At this time we are unable to confirm any 2020 event plans,” said Claire Kolberg, festival director. “However, it is possible to visit our full outdoor art gallery at any time 24/7 in downtown Fort Smith.” For a printable art map click here.
Users can download the mobile app @unexpectedfs from the App Store or on iTunes and Google Play to plan a self-guided tour, as well as check out nearby restaurants, said Kolberg. The app goes deeper into the background on each mural and artist.
Or, if you find yourself in Fort Smith, you can swing by Miss Laura’s Social Club and pick up a copy of a printed map of all murals.
For more information about Fort Smith:
“Miss Laura’s Social Club” Visitors Center
2 North B St., Fort Smith, AR 72901
9 a.m. and 4 p.m. (Monday-Saturday) and 1-4:30 p.m. (Sundays)
(479) 783-8888 or 800-637-1477
Free parking is available in public use lots throughout downtown. Metered parking is also available along Garrison Avenue and in metered parking lots.