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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK “Street art and the graffiti movement is huge,” says artist Maser. “It’s this newer sort of thing that we don’t really have a label on yet. Because I’m in the gallery sticking up ribbon, you know? And I used to do graffiti. So I don’t really know how to label what we’re all doing right now but I know in a few years, we’ll be able to look back and be like, ‘Oh, that was this little movement that was happening.’ So it’s cool — it’s exciting to be in it.”

Fort Smith may be the second largest city in Arkansas, but with less than 100,000 people, it still probably isn't the first or second or third city in the state where you would expect to find a major art movement happening. That's exactly why when community members created a street mural festival last year, they called it The Unexpected. Seven international street artists converged on the city to simultaneously create larger-than-life murals across downtown. Now in its second year, the festival is expanding its borders and its mediums.

"We always have to try to find a way to keep it unexpected," says event organizer Claire Kolberg of the festival's second year, which will include a wall in downtown Fayetteville as well as the eight murals going up in Fort Smith. "We have introduced a few of those new types of programming for this year. It was a great opportunity for The Unexpected to introduce new audiences to new artists, and also [the festival's expansion is] a great way for Fort Smith to continue to establish itself as the leader in public art in Arkansas."


The Unexpected Festival

WHEN — Through Sept. 11

WHERE — Around downtown Fort Smith; Center Street & College Avenue in Fayetteville

COST — Free


Two artists from last year's festival will be returning to Fort Smith: D*FACE and Irish artist and former Fayetteville resident, Maser. For last September's mural, Maser integrated his abstract, colorful style with the history of General Darby and Darby's Rangers. When he was invited to return to the festival, he wanted to take a different approach.

"I started building 3D installations that I treated almost like three-dimensional paintings that people then could experience and walk through and be a part of," says Maser. "It's also like people taking ownership of the public space and being involved in it, so I've brought that into a gallery space. You're sort of immersed in the art."

On the last Tuesday morning of August, Maser and his assistant are in the gallery space on the first floor of the Windgate Art and Design building on the UAFS campus. They are stringing neon pink, yellow and orange ribbons between the black walls of the gallery while university workers hang black lights in the space for an immersive sensory installation.

"Because I'm in this art school right now, this contemporary building, I can really go for it. It's like you're in a safe zone. It's a different environment when you go to a gallery, a different expectation. It's a different discipline in some ways," he says. In a way, Maser says his installation, "Argon," was inspired by working in the public realm for so long and exploring how his art affects people there. Bringing his work indoors is another way to explore that concept.

"With the use of UV lighting, the ribbon, changing the normal lighting, there'll be sound -- it's sort of like a more surreal experience from the norm. A kid might be like, 'This is a playground, this is great,' or someone might really want to investigate what's the reason behind the work. I have my reasons for doing it like [this] so it's up to people what they want to take from it."

Other changes this year include artist Bordalo II creating a sculpture rather than a mural, a collaborative mural between Northside and Southside high schools and artist Alexis Diaz bringing the festival north to Fayetteville with his mural on the side of the old Mountain Inn at Center Street and College Avenue.

Maser's installation opened last night and will be on display through the end of the month, but the rest of the artists in both cities will be working on their pieces until Sept. 11. The public is encouraged to stop by the sites during the work process to see the art unfold as Northwest Arkansas joins the street art trend.

NAN What's Up on 09/02/2016

Print Headline: The Art of The Unexpected

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