Fort Smith has received recognition as a United Nations international city for artistic and cultural innovation, becoming the 10th city in the world to be so designated by Ibiyinka Alao, an arts ambassador to the United Nations from Nigeria.
The other nine cities are New York City, London, Aberdeen, Scotland, Paris, Athens, Barcelona, York, Pa., Dresden, Germany and Amsterdam.
On his website, Alao states, “There are nine cities around the world that I have been honored to present the United Nations declaration. In order for this to happen, a city must meet certain requirements showing that the arts are incorporated into peace building efforts and economic growth within the community.”
Fort Smith will be added to the list next week, Alao said.
At a press conference Tuesday (July 6), Alao said that the city leaders had “opened his eyes and expanded his mind” with what they were doing in Fort Smith, from the murals that are part of the Unexpected to festivals to the art education in the schools.
He said in his opinion that Fort Smith had met the requirements to be named a United Nations international city for artistic and cultural innovation in peacebuilding and economic growth. The designation is based mainly on Alao’s opinion of the city when he visits, though he has to have the designation approved, he said.
Fort Smith is only the third city in the United States to receive the designation from Alao since he started making them in 2015. He said he hopes other cities throughout the South and Midwest take note of all the city is doing and incorporate similar practices in their cities.
“I see this as proof Fort Smith has passed the test. Others will see that now,” Alao said, noting that he looks for cities that use art for peacemaking and building the economy.
The designation should not be confused with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Creative Cities Network (UCCN), which organizers created in 2004 to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.
There were 246 cities that made up that network at the start of 2021. According to the UNESCO website, they work together to place creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans.
“By joining the Network, cities acknowledge their commitment to sharing best practices, developing partnerships that promote creativity and the cultural industries, strengthening participation in cultural life and integrating culture in urban development plans. The Network further commits to supporting the United Nations frameworks, particularly the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The UNESCO Creative Cities Network covers seven creative fields: Crafts and Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Media Arts, and Music,” the website states.
Alao was named Nigeria’s “Ambassador of Art” in 2005 by the country’s president, according to his website and several news and magazine articles. He also won first place in a United Nations international art contest involving participants from 61 countries around that same time. He also has a children’s book, “Ibi’s Fireflies,” that won the Grand Prize of the 2016/2017 Scholastic “Kids are Authors” contest.
Alao has spent quite a bit of time in various communities across the globe working as an artist in residency. He served as the inaugural guest artist in residence at the Rogers Experimental House in Rogers earlier this year, sponsored by the Tyson Family Foundation and the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. While there, he also worked throughout Northwest Arkansas, sharing stories of his childhood, travels, art and music, the Rogers Experimental House website states.
Alao said Tuesday that he would like to spend a year in Fort Smith as an artist in residency, hopefully beginning Sept. 15. Talks are ongoing.
“The (UN) General Assembly does not end until Oct. 4. Hopefully, the world will be peaceful by Sept. 15, and I can come here then,” Alao said with a smile.