City in Arkansas again un-expects art deluge

FORT SMITH -- The Unexpected is expected later this month to add another layer of colorful and sometimes bizarre public art that is turning downtown into an international art gallery.

Officials with the Unexpected announced the third group of urban contemporary artists from around the world who will focus on more than just the murals that have brightened downtown in the two earlier installments.

"It's a wonderful slate of artists with diverse locations and styles who will bring a great program this year," Unexpected Director Claire Kolberg said.

Artists will shift their to "interdisciplinary and participative art by revisiting historic landmarks and hidden gems of the downtown area," a news release on the announcement said.

According to the news release, the artists will be Lakwena Maciver from England; Edgar Flores, aka Saner from Mexico; Aleksei Bordusov, aka Aec from Ukraine; Felipe Pantone of Argentina; Doze Green of New York; Crystal Wagner from Philadelphia; and Circus Family, a group of audiovisual designers from the Netherlands.

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Puerto Rican artist Ana Maria, who has become a resident artist in Fort Smith, and students from Northside and Southside high schools, also expect to create new art during the Unexpected.

An alumnus of the first Unexpected, D*Face, aka Dan Stockton of England, is expected to return to Fort Smith for the Peacemaker Music and Art Fest July 28 and 29 at Riverfront Park. The news release said he will create "enormous inflatable art pieces."

Many artists who have been to Fort Smith in the past for the Unexpected have embraced the city as a second home, Kolberg said, enjoying the small town atmosphere, not having to compete for work space and the friendliness of the people.

The Unexpected began in 2015 with the idea of reversing the exodus of cultural activity from downtown and making it more vibrant and attractive, Kolberg said. And cultural vibrancy brings the hope for greater economic activity, she said.

The murals and other works of the international artists in Fort Smith will complement Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville as an art destination, Kolberg said.

The growing collection of urban contemporary art also will establish Arkansas as a leader in the genre, she said.

The Unexpected has drawn the attention of the art community around Arkansas.

Patrick Ralston, executive director of the Arkansas Arts Council, said the event was a good way to get art out in the public eye.

"From our point of view, it's an innovative form of public art," he said.

Over the past two or three decades, he said, putting art in familiar locations has grown as cities try to reinvigorate their downtown areas.

He said he liked the idea of the Unexpected. He called some of the murals in downtown Fort Smith incredibly striking.

"The fact Fort Smith undertook this is a tribute to the local leadership to bring art to their citizens," Ralston said.

One of the more unusual venues for the artists' work this year will be the exercise yard of the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center, an idea hatched last year by a Leadership Fort Smith class, Kolberg said.

Lakwena, with the permission of county officials, will bring her vibrant geometric colors and typography to create a 360-degree art experience covering the entire courtyard, the Unexpected news release said.

Kolberg said the work will aim at helping the emotional and behavioral health of the youths in the lockup.

Lakwena's work will be available to the public by video because public access to the detention center is barred , Kolberg said.

Doze Green will create his artwork in the long-closed early 20th century New Theater at 9 N. 10th St. The news release described his work as immersive and ambitious.

Pantone will create a large sculpture piece that will double as a pop-up skate park in the parking lot of the old Frisco Station at 102 Garrison Ave. Kolberg said the skate park there will be temporary but will be moved to an as-yet undetermined permanent location.

State Desk on 07/17/2017

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