THE UNEXPECTED: A HENRY AWARD WINNER
BY JOHN LOVETT // TIMES RECORD
The Unexpected street art festival in Fort Smith was named winner of the 2017 Henry Award for Community Tourism Development on Tuesday at the 43rd annual Arkansas Governor's Conference on Tourism.
Known for bringing "urban contemporary art to Arkansas," The Unexpected has garnered international attention for Fort Smith over the past two years and created a street art walking trail around downtown.
The festival is directed by Claire Kolberg, curated by the art group JustKids, and coordinated with the Fort Smith-based nonprofit organization 64.6 Downtown.
"We're thrilled to be acknowledged in the state for excellence in tourism, especially for an award recognizing innovative ways of developing tourism and foot traffic in our downtown," Kolberg said by phone after the awards were presented.
Kolberg went on to give a "huge thank you" to the 50 or so volunteers who help put on the festival and support the day-to-day operations of the artists. Some of those artists have included Maser of Ireland, Guido Van Helten of Australia, D*FACE of the United Kingdom, Askew of New Zealand, VHILS of Portugal and Bicicleta Sem Freio of Brazil.
The murals and installation pieces throughout downtown Fort Smith have largely been well received by arts writers and locals alike. Kolberg calls the works of art "interventions" that are intended to be "disruptive," albeit in a positive way.
"It's meant to be disruptive so people will look at world and environment in a different way," Kolberg said. "Art has been used this way for thousands of years, to capture a moment."
Kolberg went on to say people are "hungry for art" and seek it out.
"As humans, we are drawn to things of beauty and art is a wonderful way to inspire," she added. "It also serves as social comment with each piece ... Now more than ever people are looking for deeper meaning for their purpose and the environments."
In addition to creating a tourist draw for Fort Smith, the festival serves as a stage for international artists. One of them, Ana Maria, has even made Fort Smith her home.
"Several artists return super engaged in what's happening in our community and love being able to do this," Kolberg said.
John McIntosh, director of 64.6 Downtown, accepted the Henry Award on behalf of The Unexpected in Little Rock. 64.6 Downtown, named for the number of square miles in Fort Smith, has been a conduit for presentation of The Unexpected.
The Community Tourism Development Award is "presented to a community or organization which has achieved substantial success toward the enhancement of its local resources through imaginative and innovative development efforts."
The Unexpected enters its third year in 2017 with a catalog of nearly two dozen pieces in Fort Smith and one in Fayetteville. The past two festivals have been held in September.
Fort Smith has now won a Henry Award three out of the last four years, according to Fort Smith Advertising and Promotions Executive Director Claude Legris. There are seven Henry Awards given out by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism. Other nominees for this year's Community Tourism Development were Southside Main Street in Little Rock and the Harrison Convention & Visitors Bureau.
A map showing the locations of the murals and a little about the artists can be found at the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2 N. B St. in Fort Smith.
The Henry Awards Ceremony began at the seventh annual Governor's Conference on Tourism in 1981. They honor Henri de Tonti, the man historians consider to be one of the first "Arkansas Travelers."