Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday (July 28) that murals created by artist Lakwena in the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) as part of The Unexpected Project provide inspiration for those in danger of being forgotten by society.
Lakwena, based in London, is just one of the international artists in Fort Smith participating in The Unexpected’s third year to bring murals, displays and other art forms to downtown Fort Smith. The privately-funded effort was founded by Steve Clark, CEO of Fort Smith-based Propak Logistics, and is actively managed by Claire Kolberg and John McIntosh. Art is curated by Charlotte Dutoit.
The idea for art in the JDC began with the 2016 Leadership Fort Smith Class. During a 2016 tour of the center, an officer told class members the young inmates could use something to encourage them to “rise” above their situation, said Allison Montiel, a member of the class. She said one young inmate who was helping during the art installation has already made the connection between the art and the poem – “Still I Rise” – by Maya Angelou.
“The impact of this project will go on, and on and on,” Montiel told the audience gathered at Friday’s public showing.
Lakwena, who was helped by her sister, Abbi Maro, and many other community volunteers, recently told Talk Business & Politics she never worked inside a detention center or prison, but the work has been a dream job.
“I think, working on it, it’s like my favorite job I’ve ever done on so many levels. The space is incredible, but then the significance of it being in here. It’s like the ideal, dream job. And working with the community — we’re all working together. It’s exactly what art should be,” she said in this story.
Clark said Friday the JDC work is symbolic of what he had in mind three years ago when launching The Unexpected, which is “to disrupt, to challenge, what we see of ourselves, what we expect from ourselves.” He said the first response when Leadership Fort Smith brought the idea to the Unexpected was, “this is a fantastic idea.” Lakwena was the best choice, he said, adding that Mercy stepped up to sponsor, and collaboration with Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck and his department helped make it happen.
Clark also said the work is part of his view that art is not just for those who can afford to go to museums.
“Regardless of how you think we got here. Regardless of where you go on Sunday, if at all. It is undeniable that we were a people built to appreciate, respect and respond to things of beauty, and honor, and order. I don’t care where you are in your life, that is how we were built. And to deny any of us that, is to do so at the expense of all of us,” Clark said Friday.
Gov. Hutchinson said the art is a message that those in tough times of their life “have a need not to be forgotten, and have a need for inspiration. And that’s the most significant thing.”
“Inspiration in life is important,” he said, adding that he is impressed with how diverse elements of the community worked together on the project.
Since launching in September 2015, the art and murals festival has put downtown Fort Smith on the global map, welcoming thousands of local and tourist visitors and racking up more than 5 million views on social media channels. Link here for more information on other artists participating in the 2017 The Unexpected Project.