Return of The Unexpected: The Business of Art

by: Claire Kolberg

The arrival of September means one thing. The Unexpected will be returning. It is a 10-day event that brings urban contemporary art to Fort Smith.

For the second year in a row Fort Smith will have world-renowned artists from across the globe creating innovative works in downtown. When artists arrive, social media will follow, attracting millions around the world. All eyes will be on Fort Smith, establishing the community as a leader in public art.

The arts are a potent force that boosts economic development, supports jobs, generates government revenue, and becomes a cornerstone of tourism. For example, in 2010 Americans for the Arts published findings that northwest Arkansans spent approximately $14.5 million on art and culture events a year. Further, non-local attendees spent almost $40 each on art and culture events. This means that locals and visitors alike have the power to impact a community’s economy at the shops, restaurants, hotels and more.

The arts generate revenue and the arts boost quality of life. The arts foster education, innovation and creative economies, and these in turn become a cornerstone for recruiting, attracting and retaining people to a community.

The more a community supports and creates a place for arts and culture, the more the economy will support new revenue for the city, jobs and quality of life. A vibrant community is a community that not only survives but thrives.

When first planning The Unexpected, we were curious. What role might the arts play in economic development? What role could it play in recasting the image of the city? We saw the walls of buildings as the canvas on which we wanted to paint our future.

Further, with Arkansas becoming a destination for the arts, we wanted to capture that art space to position Fort Smith as aunique destination. We wanted to do so without duplicating what other entities were doing. By creating an event that featured public art, we removed the barriers to art and increased its impact. We’ve provided an experience that allows both artist and spectator to interact, creating a dynamic exchange.

Fort Smith is seeing renewed growth and vitality. Downtown merchants have, in partnership with 64.6 Downtown, created a Downtown Merchant Association. There are several new store-fronts on Garrison Ave.

The Unexpected is proud to be one of the catalysts propelling a creative economy. Further propelling our creative economy are the partnerships with Future School of Fort Smith and the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.

The Future School Spring Break App Academy created a mobile app for visitors to use when viewing The Unexpected. The arrival of Houston artist Ana Maria as The Unexpected Artist in Residence confirms the demand for creative spaces in Fort Smith.

The Unexpected, in partnership with our curatorial team at JustKids, takes approximately 9 months to plan. An equal amount of time is spent for fundraising. John McIntosh of 64.6 Downtown actively seeks out underwriting to support the event.

Additional support comes from private sector sponsors, building owners and thought and business leaders. We are grateful that Fort Smith leaders have been supportive of The Unexpected from the beginning. It is a powerful statement that Fort Smith is ready to embrace.

Our international reach for the first event was incredible. Combined social media estimates show that we reached approximately 5 million people globally during the 2015 festival. Analytics show that we have a sustained reach of 15,000+ touches weekly.

Finally, the event would not be possible without our volunteers. The Unexpected advisory team is comprised of Don Lee, Jim Perry and Galen Hunter. Additionally, for 10 days our team of event volunteers give their time and energy to ensure the event is the best it can be for our visiting artists, our community, and visitors.

For more information about this year’s artists, please visit and be sure to follow up on Facebook and Instagram at and @UnexpectedFS or email us at


Claire Kolberg is event organizer for The Unexpected and project manager at 64.6 Downtown. She currently leads initiatives for creative economy in downtown Fort Smith bringing over a decade of experience in artist and arts management and administration. Kolberg is a University of Arkansas graduate with a Bachelors of Science in apparel studies.