Curator: Downtown Fort Smith the ‘perfect playground’ for murals project

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 449 views 

Charlotte Dutoit believes downtown Fort Smith is the “perfect playground” to attract “big cats” in the international art world for the upcoming Festival of Murals event. She also is convinced the event will have an impact on the Fort Smith area similar to that Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has in Northwest Arkansas.

Dutoit, speaking Saturday evening (June 6) during a festival promotion party at the home of Jamie and Steve Clark, said national and international artists selected for the festival are big names in the growing global street art industry. Around 100 Fort Smith area business and community leaders attended the event.

“All of these artists have millions of followers,” Dutoit said in a interview with The City Wire. “All of them (followers) will soon know about your city … and how open you are to” the art community.

The festival is set for Sept. 6-13 in downtown Fort Smith, with several events to coincide with large murals painted or applied to several 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, an organization formed in January to promote downtown Fort Smith.

Dutoit, an art curator from France and owner of the JustKids artist network, is working with the group to select artists and areas in downtown Fort Smith for the inaugural event. In addition to the seven national and international artists, Dutoit said they will be selecting local artists from Arkansas and nearby states for other art projects, including sidewalk art.

During the interview, Dutoit said the festival will after several years create in downtown Fort Smith one of the “top outdoor art galleries” in the world.

“Just like the Crystal Bridges is drawing people from around the country, these murals will do that for Fort Smith. … This will be good for all of Arkansas,” Dutoit said.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened to the public on Nov. 11, 2011. The Bentonville-based museum’s permanent collection spans five centuries of American masterworks ranging from the Colonial era to the current day. The Walton Family — with Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart Stores founders Helen and Sam Walton, leading the charge — endowed close to $800 million for the operation, collection and capital expenses of Crystal Bridges. Hoping for around 300,000 visitors the first year, the museum attracted almost 600,000 by November 2012, and had more than 1 million visitors in the first two years.

Rom Levy, with StreetArtNews and a partner with Dutoit on the project, has a lead role in developing the social media strategy for the event. He said he and Dutoit have coordinated many of these events and are confident they “know how to reach the people and hit the right targets.” StreetArtNews was founded in 2009 by Paris-native Levy to document and report on the growing street art movement around the world.

Steve Clark told the Saturday night crowd he would welcome their financial support, but needs them “to be encouraging” of the effort and talk it up in their circles. He said the event is focused on art, but has an economic development aspect because it will create positive “public relations that, candidly, we couldn’t write a big enough check to get.”

Clark also explained why the group is referring to the festival as “The Unexpected Project.”

“I want people to come to Fort Smith and get more than what they expected to get,” he said.

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 with Fort Smith-based ArcBest.

Lee Ortega, executive director of the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, said festival organizers made a good choice in selecting a curator.

“It’s a wonderful thing for Fort Smith and I certainly hope it is something that continues year after year. I think the curator, I think that was a great find, and … it is apparent that she is really excited about Fort Smith and about bringing something new to this area. So I think we are really fortunate that this came together the way it did,” Ortega said.

She also agrees that the event could over time have a big impact on Fort Smith’s reputation in the art world.

“It very well could. Because we already have Crystal Bridges … and they’re already getting international attention and visitation, so I don’t think it (positive attention and art tourists) would be an impossibility at all.”

The festival also will include artist and student events at UAFS and the Regional Art Museum. McIntosh said details of  festival events will be made public later in the summer.