Downtown Fort Smith murals project plans to announce artists by June

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 184 views 

Plans are developing fast for the “Festival of Murals” planned for downtown Fort Smith, with organizers hoping to have the first round of artists named by June. The event is expected to include a music festival and a “Criterium” bicycle race that could attract hundreds of competitors.

The festival is set for Sept. 6-13, with several events to coincide with large murals painted or applied to between five and 10 downtown buildings. The first year of the event is being pitched as “The Unexpected Project” by Steve Clark, owner of Propak Logistics, and a CBID member and active supporter of the murals effort. The project is part of 64.6 Downtown, a new organization formed to promote downtown Fort Smith.

John McIntosh, is leading the murals project. His team for the effort is Claire Kolberg, festival coordinator; Don Lee, head of the art department at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith; Galen Hunter with Fort Smith-based MAHG Architects; and Jim Perry, a corporate marketing executive with Fort Smith-based ArcBest. McIntosh said the group knew it would be a big project to pull together in just a few months, but they are pleased with the progress.

“It’s a daunting project, but it’s been really well received from everyone we talk to,” McIntosh said Tuesday.

Charlotte Dutoit, an art curator from France, is working with the group to select artists and areas in downtown Fort Smith for the inaugural event. McIntosh said Dutoit recently visited the city and said downtown could be a great spot for an event.

“Her take is that Fort Smith presented a very unique opportunity for street artists because of the availability and proximity of large walls and small walls, so you could create a walking tour of the art,” McIntosh said. “She believes that community (international street artists) will give this a lot of attention … because it’s also different by being an event away from the art communities on the East and West coasts.”

An example of how the festival may draw international attention was provided during a recent collaboration in Fort Smith by Irish artists Maser and Conor Harrington. The two high-profile artists recently painted a large mural on the backside of retail space in the Quarry Shopping Center in Fort Smith. The mural covers a wall that is the entrance to Boardertown Skate Shop. Their work in Fort Smith was a recent feature in the Dublin edition of the U.K. Times.

Maser is the artist who painted the mural of General Darby in downtown Fort Smith. He is now based in Fayetteville.

McIntosh said they are working with Maser and Harrington to return for the festival, but securing any artist “is really dependent on their availability at that time.” He said the first round of artists and walls should be announced in early June, with additional artist and location announcements to follow.

The initial estimate is to work with six outside artists and possibly include University of Arkansas at Fort Smith students. Details aren’t secure, but McIntosh said UAFS has expressed an interest in being an active part of the effort.

“It’s shaping up well, but we can’t talk about it yet. We continue to see more opportunity to involve not only art students, but other students who are interested from the university,” he said. “We’re hoping that there is an opportunity for our guest artists to interface with the students in the production phase of their murals.”

Also shaping up is the “Hell On The Border” Criterium as part of the Arkansas State Criterium Championships, according to event organizer Spencer Kinsey. The event could draw hundreds, if not thousands, to downtown Fort Smith.

The course is located in downtown Fort Smith on Garrison Avenue. It is a 6-turn, 81 mile “L” shape course. The start-finish line will be near 8th and Garrison.

“Basically it’s exciting short course bicycle racing with speeds of up to 30 miles per hour in downtown Fort Smith,” Kinsey noted in an e-mail interview.