World-renowned artist Ana Maria is partnering with Fort Smith’s 64.6 Downtown — the group behind the city’s Unexpected murals project — to open a new art school at the Universal Chapel building located at 1300 Garrison Ave.
Residents will recognize the building as the one with a multi-colored, vibrant facade at the intersection of Rogers and Garrison Avenues, and near the Immaculate Conception church. It was painted by artist Okuda during the 2016 Unexpected Festival.
The new school will be called La Colmena (the Beehive), and according to the signup sheet, it will feature classes for student groups ages 8-13, 14-18, and over-18. A press release elaborated that it will be for “all ages and skill-sets, creating an atmosphere where students will learn in a collaborative environment.”
“The name La Colmena (the Beehive) is the living place of a bee’s colony, where they live and produce their honey,” Ana Maria said in a statement, adding that the school “will be a living place for artists where they can create and produce works, while contributing to the local art scene as both a group and individual artists.”
In a follow-up, the artist told Talk Business & Politics the reason for the collaboration is “to integrate the art community of Fort Smith and to provide a space where people of different ages can meet and learn different art skills based on a self-taught learning experience.”
When asked about future courses and teachers, she replied, “We are taking one day at a time and hope for this to become a successful project.” Ana Maria will teach classes in English and Spanish.
“We are thrilled to have an international and world-class artist such as Ana Maria living in Fort Smith”, said Steve Clark, founder of 64.6 Downtown and CEO of Fort Smith-based Propak Logistics. “Even more exciting is that she is willing to share her talents with our community on a personal level.”
Classes begin Feb. 7 and cycle every six weeks. Class days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and space is limited. According to the Class Reservation Sheet, “Cycle 1” will cover drawing. In it, students will experiment with different aspects of drawing, materials and content and will work on a final art piece to be exhibited at the end of the Cycle. Private classes are available by appointment. Tuition is $180 and the fee does not include materials. More information on La Colmena is available at this link.
Ana Maria is originally from Puerto Rico. Her work utilizes an interpretive storytelling style with different dimensions of life and time as well as characters with mixed phenotypes — animal, mechanical, and human. She has participated in both Unexpected festivals so far and decided to relocate from Houston to Fort Smith based off her first year’s experience with the murals project.
Since launching the Unexpected in 2015, 64.6 Downtown has attracted more than 5 million views on social media.
The class is also part of efforts by 64.6 Downtown to revitalize the district. The group in 2016 hired Dallas-based Gateway Planning to conduct a strategic redevelopment review of Downtown Fort Smith. The Gateway Planning redevelopment plan is funded through a combination of funds from the Central Business Improvement District (CBID, $50,000) and private donations. The total eight-month contract between Gateway and 64.6 Downtown was for $258,000.
Gateway Planning will present its final strategic redevelopment plan for downtown Fort Smith to the Fort Smith Board of Directors on Jan. 31, 2017, at 5:30 p.m. The event will be held at the Riverfront Pavilion located at 121 Riverfront Drive.