The Unexpected returns to downtown Fort Smith in October

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,108 views 

The Unexpected art mural project will again be held during the time of pumpkin spice lattes, Friday night football and hopefully a break in soaring temperatures.

The festival will be held Oct. 7-12 this year in downtown Fort Smith, according to 64.6 Downtown. The group — a nonprofit created by Fort Smith-based Propak owner Steve Clark — has organized the festival since 2015.

For the first two years, The Unexpected took place in the early part of September. In 2018, it jumped to the final week of July to coincide with the Peacemaker Music Festival. In 2018, Peacemaker stayed put, but The Unexpected moved back to the fall, this time in late October.

The Unexpected, the 2017 Henry Award winner for Community Tourism from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, is entering its fifth year strong, a media release from 64.6 Downtown said. As it does, it “continues its mission to bring high quality urban and contemporary art to Arkansas alongside their curatorial partner, the international creative house Justkids.”

Justkids is a creative house that conceives and produces art projects internationally. The “Still I Rise” art mural from internationally-renowned artist Lakwena on the interior walls of the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center was among 2017’s featured attractions, drawing national attention and a visit from Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Previous artist participants have included Alexis Diaz, Okuda San Miguel, Guido Van Helten, Jaz, Pastel, Faith 47, Bordalo II, Cyrcle and two-time Unexpected artists D*Face and Maser.

While the lineup and artists for this year’s festival will not be announced until September, the release said, “Visitors to The Unexpected can expect to see augmented activities surrounding the event expanding on art, culture, music, and thought. Events will take place in the downtown footprint creating an easily walk-able experience and will include hands-on activities for both adults and children.”

64.6 Downtown spokeswoman Claire Kolberg said the estimated global reach of last year’s event was about 5 million people. Because all their events are nonticketed, it is difficult to measure how many people attend the festival, making an economic impact study difficult, she said.

“Each one of our artists brings their own social media following with them. We can tap into that via posts on The Unexpected and their time in Fort Smith and see the numbers,” Kolberg said.

Tours for the Unexpected are booked throughout the year through the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau and coordinated with 64.6 Downtown, Kolberg said, adding that she sees people often taking their pictures with different murals and when she does, she stops and asks about their visit.

“People passing through are stopping and visiting the murals. People are also making sure Fort Smith is a stop on their journey, so they can come see what [The Unexpected] is,” she said.

Kolberg said she is often asked how 64.6 Downtown has made The Unexpected a success and how they can duplicate that in their town or city.

“My advice really is ‘What is the purpose of your event?’ You really have to nail that down, be clear of your purpose and vision before you can start the process of how you can make it something that works for your town,” she said. “Every city is unique. You just have to work to find something that works for your city or town. With The Unexpected, we really play on Fort Smith’s strengths.”