This article was published by the Times Record on September 14, 2015. It was written by Jon Lovett. You can find the original article here: swtimes.com
By John Lovett
Times Record • firstname.lastname@example.org
Fort Smith’s first mural festival, “The Unexpected Project,” took nearly a year to organize and one week to carry out, but the impacts are expected to last for many years to come.
Claire Kolberg, festival organizer with 64.6 Downtown, says the arts have proven to be an economic stimulater in many places including her city of Fayetteville. Before the Walton Arts Center was established in 1992, downtown Fayetteville did not attract as much business she said.
Kolberg, who used to work at the Walton Arts Center, expects the new murals to be an added attraction for both downtown and the entire city of Fort Smith. It may also even inspire a healthy walk to take a look at the new works.
“I think people are starting to realize this is where we live, work and play, and if we want to attract the right kind of people to live, work and play here, we need to do something that is bigger than ourselves,” Kolberg said. “Something that will spark a conversation.”
Through social media contacts of the seven street artists alone, more than 1 million people have likely seen the works created over the past week on buildings in Fort Smith.
The sidewalks downtown were busy with viewers of the art in creation Friday as artists like Maser and the Brazilian trio known as Bicicleta Sem Freio put the finishing touches on their murals. Maser’s depicts a World War II combat scene. The Brazilians painted what appear to be dueling robotic cowboys. Maser is originally from Dublin and now lives in Fayetteville. He previously painted Gen. William O. Darby on the wall next to the U.S. Post Office downtown.
Maser had to paint over the Darby mural to take it to the next level. The Rangers, he said, did their first training in Ireland during the early years of World War II. The piece was sponsored by Steve Clark of Propack Logistics. A discussion between Maser and Clark prompted the idea for the festival in November, Kolberg said, in an effort to create more “vibrancy and interest.”
Since the opening of Crystal Bridges Musuem of American Art at Springdale in November 2011, Arkansas has become a destination for the arts, Kolberg added.
“We need to find a way to capture some of that space without duplicating what Crystal Bridges is doing,” Kolberg said. “We’ll never be able to duplicate that. It’s one of a kind. But we can attract some of those people.”
The street goes both ways, she adds. The fans of these internationally known “street artists” may also come to Fort Smith to see ROA’s controversial mole on Fifth Street, sponsored by Sparks Health System. Unexpected Project volunteer Penny Packard, who is a former art gallery owner, said “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and leaves it up to that viewer to make their own interpretations.
ROA, a Belgian artist, is considered one of the top street artists in the world and was included in the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Art In The Streets” exhibit, according to an Unexpeced Project artist biography sheet.
At the Unexpected Project’s “pop up” headquarters in the former Sacred Grounds coffee shop downtown, volunteer coordinator Judi McIntosh said most of the comments from the public have been positive. But the mole has rubbed a few people the wrong way.
“For the most part the response has been tremendous,” McIntosh said.
While Fort Smith’s badge of honor and infamy is in the realm of its hardscrabble western heritage, the artists were not asked to specifically paint an Old West-themed mural. The giant six-shooter and cowboy on D*Face’s mural at 317 Garrison Ave., however, will likely find more local admirers than the lonely mole. The artists do usually take some inspiration for their pieces from the local history, Kolberg said. D*Face is from the United Kingdom.
The festival was no closer to winding down Friday as it was on Tuesday. Askew, the artist from Auckland, New Zealand, took photos of three local Cherokee women to paint on the side of Bill Neumeier’s new Rib Room at Fifth Street and Garrison Avenue.
Paints used by the artists are latex based, Kolberg said, and the works will look good for up to five years depending on what direction they face. Most of the 11 murals are painted on the western and southern walls, with only a couple facing east or south. The one mural that is more of a carving than a painting is by Vhils of Portugal in the 900 block of Garrison Avenue. Layers of white and dark plaster were applied over the bricks of the old Malco Theater building to give the artist a canvas for what is now the face of a Native American.
Kolberg said the team at 64.6 Downtown will see how it goes over the next few years, but she said another mural festival could happen in Fort Smith again. There are still plenty of walls to paint downtown.
The artists enjoyed themselves while they were here, she added, because of the sincere interest shown in their work and the slower pace they were allowed to work by being in a less hectic downtown environment.