The Unexpected Project to include art for troubled youth, praised by state’s parks and tourism boss

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,482 views 

The large crowd gathered Saturday night in downtown Fort Smith to ceremonially open the third year of The Unexpected Project learned that one art work will not be public and will be seen primarily by those in a “crisis stage in their life.”

Steve Clark, the CEO of Fort Smith-based Propak and founder of The Unexpected Project, told the crowd gathered in the former New Theater – aka the old Malco Theater – that the public area of the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center would be transformed by artist Lakwena. Lakwena Maciver is based in London, and she uses bold colors, patterns and texts to create inspirational messages.

“If you guys all take care of your business, you will never see her work, because it’s in the juvenile detention center,” Clark told the crowd.

With a much more serious tone, Clark added: “We are reaching beyond the walls of our city and into the hearts and minds of those who are in all situations in their life. We are of the opinion that if we can bring art and creativity to those who might be in a real crisis stage in their life, it can be that spark of inspiration that makes the change.”

Clark said Gov. Asa Hutchinson will be in Fort Smith on Friday (July 28) to view Lakwena’s work in the center.

Part of the financial support for Lakwena’s work in the detention center came from $10,000 raised by the Leadership Fort Smith Class of 2016.

The third annual event is again a weeklong event – a collaboration with creative house Justkids – and will feature all new artists for 2017.

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.

Steve Clark, the CEO of Fort Smith-based Propak and founder of The Unexpected Project, addresses the audience at Saturday’s (July 22) opening event of The Unexpected Project.

“The Unexpected is a revitalizing action that encourages a bond to one’s environment and reveals Arkansas as an international epicenter for cutting edge contemporary art and cultural exchange,” according to the organization.

The artist lineup for 2017 includes New York artist Doze Green, whose “The Divine Sparks Project” revisits the former 1910’s New Theater, an Art Nouveau playhouse in the heart of downtown which had remained abandoned and closed to the public for close to 30 years.

Adjacent to the theater, the Amsterdam-based audiovisual design collective Circus Family will target a former sign-making studio with “an immersive light experience in which the audience directs the intensity, audio and colors by simply approaching and or moving around the shapes,” according to Event Director Claire Kolberg.

West on Garrison Avenue, Philadelphia-based artist Crystal Wagner will install a sculptural piece on the landmark Reynolds Davis Facade, while Felipe Pantone, an Argentinian artist, will step out of the wall for a massive sculptural piece to double as a “pop-up” skate park on the Fort Smith National Historic Site parking lot.

Continuing its international connections, The Unexpected will also welcome London-based artist Lakwena, who specializes in vibrant geometric colors and typography for an installation inside the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center.

This is one of two large murals by Doze Green located in the old New Theater in downtown Fort Smith.

Her work “will expand from the bi-dimensional limits of the walls,” creating a 360-degree art experience to cover the entire courtyard. The artist, who recently opened her solo exhibition “The Future’s Gold” in London, aims “to meaningfully engage with the young convicts through her art, bringing some color, wonder and sparks from the outside world into theirs,” the release stated.

Other artists to whom invitations have been extended include Mexican muralist Saner along with Ukrainian phenomena AEC from the duo Interesni Kazki. They join the lineup this year to collaborate in the creation of a large scale mural located between 8th and Garrison.

Clark said as the event has grown, it has required increased support from the community. He also said “it would not, could not, would never have happened” without Kolberg, John McIntosh and a host of “great volunteers.” He also thanked the numerous companies and corporate sponsors who have and continue to support the Unexpected.

And because buildings are an important connection with The Unexpected, Clark thanked Fort Smith businessman and downtown developer Richard Griffin for preserving the former theater in which Saturday’s event was held.

“This building would have long been torn down had it not been for Richard and his family,” he said.

Clark also said he still hears from some who believe the city is financially supporting The Unexpected. Clark said when he encounters this belief it gives him an opportunity to spread the word that the event is wholly supported by the private sector with collaboration – permits, traffic control, etc. – from the city.

“This is all private and in collaboration with our city, not at the expense of our citizens, but to the benefit of our citizens. … This is something the whole city should be incredibly proud of because this wasn’t done for us, we did this. We did this,” Clark said to loud applause and cheers.

Arkansas Parks & Tourism Department Director Kane Webb, who attended the Saturday night opening event, is impressed with the project.

“I think it’s another great thing that Fort Smith is doing. And they continue to, you know, mine the arts and culture and quality of life, and they get it. They really get it, and I love the direction the city is going,” Webb said.