At least 400 gathered Thursday (Sept. 3) for an event that not only formally opened the new visual arts building on the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith campus, but also served as a launch event for the “Unexpected Project” which will see seven international street artists paint large wall murals in downtown Fort Smith.
The large crowd began to gather around 5 p.m. Thursday at the new 58,000-square-foot Windgate Art & Design Building located on the UAFS campus at the intersection of Kincaid Avenue and Waldron Road. It is the first building to be constructed as part of the university's new master plan, and brings all art department programs, once housed in four separate buildings, under one roof. The new facility has several gallery spaces, a 120-seat theater, a letterpress and printmaking operation, graphic design laboratories, spaces for photography, painting, sculpture, art history, and a sound booth. Classes include basic courses in drawing, 2D design, 3D design, typography and digital imaging.
Funding for the facility was provided by a $15.5 million gift by the Windgate Charitable Foundation. However, the foundation challenged UAFS to raise $2.5 million in private support to help establish an endowment for the facility. The Siloam Springs Windgate Charitable Foundation “supports programs focused on strengthening marriage and healthy relationships, serving children and providing Christian higher education. The Foundation also supports programs focused on arts and crafts, as well as on art history.”
Don Lee, head of the UAFS art department, told the crowd that the building is a “game changer” with respect to art and design instruction for students and in connecting the university and region with the art world. Lee said the community has already proven supportive of the building and its programs, which not only provide more convenience and opportunities for students but also gives them a creative place to “gaze and reflect.”
UAFS Chancellor Dr. Paul Beran said he is proud the building is the first step in the UAFS master plan and said that step will help support the “Fort Smith creative class.”
John Brown III, executive director of the Windgate Charitable Foundation, told The City Wire he was impressed with what university officials were able to do with the building.
“The aesthetics are wonderful. It’s very attractive and the building really works with a lot of uses,” Brown said. “Don Lee is to be commended and the team around him, the architects and designers, they all did just a wonderful job.”
Following the formal opening of the building, the event turned to the opening of “Printology,” a gallery print show with 50 unique prints selected to trace urban art history through the technique of printing. Curated by JUSTKIDS, and sponsored by the UAFS Foundation, this retrospective exhibition will feature some iconic works from the most renowned artists from the Urban Scene such as Banksy, Invader and Shepard Fairey. The exhibition runs through the end of October.
“As surprising as it can be, it’s a premiere in the US and gathering such a wide scope of work has been a great adventure into these iconic pieces of the genre,” said Charlotte Dutoit, owner of JUSTKIDS who also recruited the seven international artists who will paint the murals in downtown Fort Smith. (Link here for more information on the seven artists.)
Claire Kolberg, who is helping to organize the Murals Festival in downtown Fort Smith and the Printology exhibit, said the collaboration with UAFS has provided a chance for area residents to see the works of world-famous street artists.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Fort Smith to see works by some of the world’s most famous street artists,” Kolberg said. “We are thrilled to partner with the UAFS Foundation on this exhibit, and it’s representative of the commitment they have made to help make Fort Smith a destination for the arts.”
The Murals Festival is set for Sept. 5-13 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.
In his comments Thursday night, Clark said there is no “economic cavalry coming” to save the Fort Smith metro area, and that requires citizens to consider unique and unexpected ways to make the region attractive to the outside world. He said the Printology exhibit and the Murals Festival is already “creating millions of impressions” around the world among the art communities. He said he is eager to see what the “top muralists” around the world do with their mural spaces in downtown Fort Smith.
“Some of you will like it (the murals), and some of you won’t. And I’m OK with that,” Clark said.