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THE UNEXPECTED 2017

By John Lovett // Times Record // jlovett@swtimes.com

Fort Smith and The Unexpected take on new dimensions in this third edition of what has become an internationally recognized public arts festival.

Over the next week, 10 artists and a league of volunteers will work to create larger-than-life art art to challenge a viewer’s perceptions of the city.

“This year is more about reintroducing people and art to forgotten places,” Claire Kolberg, The Unexpected festival coordinator, said Friday in a warehouse downtown as volunteers worked with Crystal Wagner.

Standing atop a construction scaffold 10 feet up, Wagner said her works are not so much abstract as they are taking inspiration from natural elements to present something familiar and foreign at once.

The “architectural and organic dialogue,” as she called it, is for the Reynolds-Davis Building facade left behind in 1996 after a tornado whipped through downtown. This is Wagner’s third outdoor installation, with other pieces in Poland and Las Vegas. Originally from Pennsylvania, the artist recently got a big space in the Hudson Valley near Beacon, N.Y., to call her home space.

Kolberg said the Wagner piece is “labor intensive” and will have “high impact” downtown. The nylon fabric, which is threaded into cages of black wire, is the same used for kits and parachutes, Kolberg noted. The piece should last about two years. Wagner said she will have a name for the work once it is done and in place.

Both this art installation and the 12-piece skate ramp by Felipe Pantone of Argentina were constructed in a building at the 900 block of Rogers Avenue donated to the artists by local real estate developer Rodney Ghan, who lives next door.

“We couldn’t have done these big pieces without this space,” said John McIntosh, executive director of Downtown 64.6. “It’s very convenient for the artists to just walk across the street from the hotel and work.”

It also kept the scorching sun off their necks. The heat index was over 100 degrees Thursday and Friday.

Lakwena, a London-based artist, is pushing The Unexpected into new territory with a mural she will paint at the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center courtyard. Kolberg said her work will be “beneficial” for those who are detained there. A news release says the 360-degree art experience aims to “meaningfully engage with the young convicts through her art, bringing some color, wonder and sparks from the outside world into theirs.”

Lakwena recently opened a solo exhibition called “The Future’s Gold” in London.

Invited artists for this year festival include Mexican muralist Saner, along with Ukranian AEC of the duo Interesni Kazki. Saner and AEC will collaborate in the creation of a large mural between North Eighth Street and Garrison Avenue downtown.

New Theater

The New Theater, an Art Nouveau playhouse at 9 N. 10th St. that has not been open to the public in more than 30 years, will become a cool spot this week as Doze Green of New York uses the space for “The Divine Sparks Project.” Not much explanation is available yet on the art piece, other than it is “immersive and ambitious.”

Green, The Unexpected organizers say, is “legendary.” The 10,000-square-foot building’s exterior features a gargoyle under the chiseled name Sparks and the year 1911. It is owned by the Griffin Charitable Organization and was last used by Music Fort Smith in the mid-1980s, according to McIntosh.

Circus Family Reunion

Near the New Theatre, at 17 N. 10th St. the Circus Family of Amsterdam will reunite to bring new life to the former Landmark Signs building with an interactive light installation called “TRIPH.”

McIntosh said the building was originally a livery stables for horses and later on became a popular dance hall in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s with soldiers from Fort Chaffee. The building has not been used for 15 years.

“The Divine Sparks Project” and “TRIPH” will be on view today through Aug. 13 with visiting hours during The Unexpected 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed Mondays, with a 5-8 p.m. opening Aug. 1 for the monthly First Tuesday event. The works will also be accessible 5-8 p.m. Fridays and noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 13.

Ana Maria Solo

“Feral Kingdom,” a solo exhibition by Ana Maria, will be open to the public at 11 N. Third St. 1-8 p.m. next weekend, July 28-30, in a space near the former Rolando’s. It will also be on view until Aug. 13 by appointment during visiting hours, 1-8 p.m. To schedule a gallery visit call (787) 414-7625.

Ana Maria, originally from Puerto Rico, has painted murals in the two previous festivals, having become an artist-in-residence last year before relocating permanently to Fort Smith.

D*FACE Returns

During the Peacemaker Music and Art Festival next weekend, D*FACE will present large inflatable art pieces. The London artist has left his mark on several buildings in Fort Smith.

The Felipe Pantone skate park at 102 Garrison Ave. next to the Fort Smith National Historic Site at the Frisco Train Depot parking lot will have its official revealing 3 p.m. Thursday and be on display until July 31. It’s open for use all hours and days.

Other Events

In partnership with the U.S. Marshals Museum and Belle Starr Antiques Mall, The Unexpected will hold a Meet the Design Happy Hour 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday at 401 N. B St. During the event at Belle Starr Antiques, attendees will be invited to visit with Marshals Museum architects from Polk Stanley Wilcox about the updated building designs.

The Meet the Design Happy Hour is part of a three-day pop-up event taking place Thursday to Sunday where students from both Northside and Southside high schools will paint a mobile and portable mural in dedicated locations around downtown Fort Smith.

Art Feeds Debut

Art Feeds, a nonprofit that provides free creative and expressive arts programming to children, will debut its mobile art center Van Gogh 2.0 at Cisterna Park, 1001 Garrison Ave., 2-8 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday.

Steve Clark, one of the founders of The Unexpected and president of ProPak Logistics downtown, feels this year’s festival is “an opportunity to continue the development of our creative economy and the furtherance of civic pride.”

“It’s another world-class lineup which creates an opportunity to show the world our wonderful city through a most Unexpected lens,” Clark added.

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To see the Times Record’s full photo gallery of The Unexpected 2017, click here.