Festival of Murals organizers share event video, results with Arkansas’ tourism commission

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 173 views 

A scene from the Festival of Murals video presented Thursday (Nov. 19) to members of Arkansas’ State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission.

Members of Arkansas’ State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission received a brief presentation Thursday (Nov. 19) about the Festival of Murals project held in downtown Fort Smith that festival organizers say has resulted in more than 1 million people worldwide seeing the city in a new context.

The inaugural festival was held Sept. 6-13 in downtown Fort Smith with more than seven well-known international street and urban artists painting or creating large and unique murals on several buildings in the area. 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.

Charlotte Dutoit, an art curator from France and owner of the JustKids artist network, selected artists for the inaugural event. JustKids collaborates with cities, groups and others to create large scale art events, gallery shows and design spaces with a global network of artists, curators, designers and art consultants on an international scale. Artists involved in the first “Unexpected” mural event included Maser (Ireland), Vhils (Portugal), D*Face (United Kingdom), Roa (Belgium), Ben Eine (London), Ana Maria (Puerto Rico), and Bicicleta Sem Freio, an artist duo from Brazil.

Local leaders of the effort were John McIntosh, 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. Part of the festival included partnering with the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith in the opening of the university’s new Windgate Art & Design building.

Kolberg and McIntosh briefly addressed the commission Thursday and presented a short video of the event. Kolberg said Arkansas is becoming known “as a destination for the arts,” and the festival wanted to do something that did not compete with other Arkansas art venues. Thus, the large outdoor mural project. Based on reaction from the community, Kolberg said the project placed the Fort Smith area “in a much better place than it was before.”

“Have you ever seen anyone fall in love with their city again in real time? I did,” Kolberg said in explaining to commissioners the typical response she received from the public.

One of the international artists in the video noted that what was “unexpected” for him was the overall positive reaction from the community. He said it is not uncommon for some city residents to be critical of or uninterested in such unique outdoor art presentations, but that was not the case in Fort Smith. Another artist in the video said that while the art is large, it is about creating “small interactions” between the artist and the community.

At the end of the video, loud applause erupted from the commission and the gathered audience.

“Thank you, and yes, we plan to do it again,” McIntosh responded, adding that the 2016 festival dates are Sept. 2-11.

Commission Chairman Mike Mills thanked them for sharing.

“I can say this for the commission: That was awesome,” Mills said.

Talk Business & Politics plans to update this post on Friday with the video presented to the commission.