The Unexpected mural project in Fort Smith

Editor’s note: The event featured in this article occurred in 2016, but you’ll find this and other great happenings for the current year on our Events page.

Mural festivals are typically in big cities. But for the second year, Fort Smith is host to The Unexpected, a mural festival bringing urban contemporary art to Arkansas.

During the event occurring this week, the walls of several downtown historic buildings will be painted with large murals. The buildings are located in between about 10 square blocks. The public is encouraged to witness the process as the internationally renowned artists work to complete their murals by Sunday.

The Unexpected international artist line-up includes Alexis Diaz, Okuda San Miguel, Guido Van Helten, Jaz, Pastel, Faith 47, Bordalo II, Cyrcle and returning artists D*Face and Maser.

Irish artist Maser, most known for his graffiti and mural paintings, kicked off the event last week with a reception for his new immersive art work. You can find the Fort Smith creation, titled “Argon,” at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Windgate Art and Design building now through Oct. 1. Maser has transformed a gallery space through the use of neon, light, sound, and ribbon. “Argon” is sponsored by UAFS Foundation and in cooperation with the Chancellor’s Coalition for the Visual Arts.

The three dimensional installation is like walking into a painting. He has created three other such installations in London, Zurich, and Munich.

Alexis Diaz contributed to this year’s festival opening with a mural started on Aug. 26 in Fayetteville at the old Mountain Inn building on Center Street and College Avenue. The idea is to interact and provoke people in other regions to experience the art in Fort Smith.

In addition to the international artists, two murals will be designed and executed by college and high schools students. One will be by the UAFS art department and another will be a collaborative mural between Northside and Southside High Schools.

In a recent interview, Maser said the mural festival brings a lot of artists from different cultures that bring a lot of energy. “Art is a very powerful thing,” he added. “One mural can do so many things to so many different people.”

Maser painted the mural at Fort Smith’s BoarderTown Skate Park several years ago. He ended up moving to Fayetteville for a couple of years. He says he found Arkansas to be a very productive place. “I don’t know what it is. The Southern way maybe,” he said with a smile. “This is more my style. It’s chill. You know, big cities are all the same.”  He now lives in London. “I can be quite mobile.”

Maser painted the skate park mural at the invitation of Steve Clark, who lives in Fort Smith and is from that area. They became fast friends and eventually came up with the mural festival idea. “We were talking about doing something here that would be unexpected,” Clark explained. Maser then introduced him to Charlotte Dutoit of JUSTKIDS, which organizes large art events, and the idea became reality.

The Unexpected is curated by JUSTKIDS and organized by 64.6 Downtown. An event map details the location of last year’s 11 murals and this year’s nine murals. It can found online at or on the app UnexpectedFS. Both also provide information on the artists, lodging, and more.

The mural movement is the largest art movement since the Renaissance, Clark believes. He said cities that want to be relevant have to have art.

“This is the kind of city I want to live in,” he added. “We owe it to ourselves to put our best foot forward to be the best city we can be.”

While Clark supports art and dreams big through an entrepreneurial lens, he said he also respects the history of Fort Smith. Some people in the city were concerned about how the murals would fit with the heritage of the town when the concept was introduced last year.

Fort Smith has long been known for its Wild West history and heritage. Its first fort was built at Belle Point, where the Arkansas and Poteau rivers unite. Federal marshals rode out of the United States and into Indian Territory at this juncture. Outlaws collided with Hanging Judge Isaac Parker.

With the addition of the murals, this military settlement has grown into a city that is a meetinghouse for the past, present and future with its well-preserved frontier spirit, its establishment of contemporary arts and entertainment venues, and its thriving community that is building for the future.