When we woke up on the morning of Sept. 4, 2015, few of us could fathom how much our hometown would be changed a week later. We didn’t realize the depth of what we had been lacking. Like a child born blind, but after a miracle surgery, we can see.
We can see now just how beautiful our little city of Fort Smith can be.
Through ridiculous humidity, scorching temperatures, and torrential rain, the dozen or so artists involved in this year’s Unexpected Mural Festival have changed the face of Fort Smith forever. Whether good or bad is a matter of personal opinion, but none of us can deny that we as a city are changed because of it. The overwhelming feedback so far is that this change is a positive one.
We as a city have strolled, gawked, ooh-ed, and ahh-ed together over the past week. Think back to the last time you’ve seen that many people downtown during a weekday. It’s been a while. Now remember that it was like that all this past week. Every day. It was beautiful. We were excited. We were rejuvenated. We all broke a sweat to go downtown and watch a handful of talented people paint cowboys, and Native Americans, and critters all over our beloved, historic downtown.
Since we brought up critters, let’s address the mole. There has been muttering about this fine fellow. Let’s clear something up quickly first. Moles are not rodents. They’re soricomorphs. There’s a difference. Now that we’ve cleared that up, to all those asking “Why a mole?” I respond, “Why not?.” ROA, our new Belgian friend who painted the aforementioned mole (And the otter, too!), was asked the same question. He said he always roots for the underdog. The little guy. If he doesn’t give the mole his moment in the sun, who would?
Fort Smith is a lot like the mole. Under appreciated. Looked down on by our siblings up the hill. Taken for granted. But this week we changed that. We as a community stood up and proudly said: “You may have a bigger University, and you may a fancier art museum, but there’s a lot of us and our paintings are bigger and more beautiful than yours. And we’ll gladly tell you all about them when you come to see them.”
As this year’s festival comes to a close, we are all going to feel a kind of collective depression. Having been so excited, so enthused, so happy to see our little city take yet another big step toward a better destiny, for the past eight or so days it’ll be sad to see our new friends wrap up their murals and head off to their next thing. It’s like after all the Christmas presents are unwrapped and the realization of the finality of it all sinks in. But there’s a spark of hope. A little nugget of excitement. We all get to look forward to what’s next for us; to what next year’s festival will hold in store – and some surprise things that may happen between now and next year’s festival. Let’s think about the things we can do to make this place a better place, a place worth living.
And that’s ultimately the truly unexpected.
(Link here for a story that includes more information about the artists and the event.)