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FORT SMITH’S CULTURE AND ARTS

Fort Smith has a breadth of opportunities if you’re looking to get a little more culture in your world.

From the award-winning Fort Smith Symphony to the much talked-about future U.S. Marshals Museum, the city and its residents take pride in a rich history and modern take on its developing future.

The Marshals Museum building in Fort Smith began taking shape in 2018, with the promise of more on the horizon.

Since the announcement in early 2007 that the museum was “coming home” to Fort Smith, residents have been eager to see progress at the site along the Arkansas River downtown. Fort Smith was headquarters for marshals who patrolled the Indian Territory in the 1800s, memorialized in movies such as “True Grit” and “Hang ‘Em High,” so the city’s selection as the site for a national museum seemed fitting. More U.S. Marshals and deputies also have died in the line of duty while based out of Fort Smith than any other location in the 230 year history of the organization founded by George Washington.
The first segments of concrete for the new U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith were poured in late October 2018, followed by the first beams for the Mary Carleton and Robert A. Young III Building, home of the future museum.

The museum’s president hopes to have the building completed and the Hall of Honor, which honors the deputy U.S. marshals killed in the line of duty, open by the projected grand opening. Most of the exhibits will likely be installed later.

The museum will pay homage to the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency and help unite other Fort Smith locations — including the National Historic Site and “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker’s gallows — as part of the city’s rich “Old West” legacy. Fort Smith was named by True West Magazine as a 2019 Top True Western Town, the seventh year in a row for the city to make the magazine’s top 10. It was featured in the February 2019 edition of the magazine.

“Back in the frontier days, Fort Smith was a gateway for people seeking their future in the Oklahoma and Indian territories — or beyond,” a True West Magazine news release states. “Travelers faced numerous obstacles and challenges in this rough and tumble place; they had to possess ‘true grit.’ That same character shows today in Fort Smith’s determination to showcase its place in Old West history.”

The historic Atkinson-Williams Warehouse at 320 Rogers Ave. houses the Fort Smith Museum of History. The museum was established in 1910 and is home to about 40,000 items that help tell Fort Smith’s story.

Exhibits include the William O. Darby Memorial Room, which features artifacts from the founder of Darby’s Rangers, who was born in Fort Smith in 1910 and attended Fort Smith High School and West Point. Other exhibits feature furnishings from the court of Judge Isaac C. Parker, a collection of 19th century woodworking tools, a display depicting the region’s broadcast history; and an exhibit on African-American history in Fort Smith. The Boyd Gallery offers temporary exhibitions as well as traveling exhibitions.

Visitors can enjoy ice cream sundaes, floats and more at the museum’s old-fashioned soda fountain. The museum’s gift shop offers locally made items such as pottery and art, and prints of historic Fort Smith are available as well.

The Atkinson-Williams Warehouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Colorful reminders of the annual Unexpected Project can be seen throughout Fort Smith, including several projects that came to life in 2018.

The 2018 Unexpected Project, held Oct. 22-28, 2018, was the fourth installment of the event that brings artists together to Fort Smith to celebrate not just art itself but the ability to get a community to come together.

The murals provide an opportunity for residents and tourists alike to walk throughout the downtown area to find these “hidden gems” of Fort Smith.

In 2018, Towson Avenue was the target location for many artists. Nate “Buffalo” Meyers of Fort Smith created a mural on the north wall of the Habitat For Humanity ReStore building on Towson Avenue. Meyers, who has painted murals in Denver and Memphis, said he has worked in The Unexpected in different capacities since 2016 but got his own wall this year.

Muralist Alex “Pref” Geoffrey of London participated in the 2018 Unexpected Project by painting a mural on the north side of a building in the southwest corner of Towson Avenue and North C Street. That mural depict three-dimensional block letters that spell out “the very best is yet to come” in a flowing banner. Geoffrey said he got the idea for the mural because of the mission of The Unexpected to revive Fort Smith.

Diogo “Add Fuel” Machado created his interpretation of Native American art on several storefronts in the 200 block of Towson Avenue.

Snooper’s Barn Used Books owner Janice Wade at 208 Towson Ave. in downtown Fort Smith said she has seen an increase in foot traffic since the multi-building, Southwest-design mural by Add Fuel of Portugal was painted in during the 2018 Unexpected.

Residents of Decatur, Alabama, during last year’s Unexpected approached festival leaders about using the event as a benchmark for revitalization in their town, Unexpected founder Steve Clark said.

Unexpected director Claire Kolberg said festival leaders regularly receive calls and emails from people in other towns who would like to duplicate the festival in their own community.