The second largest city in Arkansas has evolved into one of the key centers for artistic expression.By Dwain Hebda
One cornerstone of art in Fort Smith is the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum (1601 Rogers Ave.). RAM features traveling exhibits as well as drop-in art activities on Saturdays ranging from making Halloween masks and snow globes to Drop In and Draw events open to amateur and experienced artists alike. Many of the community events are free.
Fort Smith pioneered the current community murals rage that is popping up all over Arkansas, thanks to The Unexpected. The organization has commissioned a number of free art experiences throughout the city; for starters, take a walk down Garrison Avenue and look around.
Architecture meets amour at Miss Laura’s Visitor Center (2 N. B St.), located in the former Miss Laura’s Social Club in the heart of Fort Smith’s Old West red light district. The former bordello is an example of the row houses that once lined the area, and is the only “house of ill repute” on the National Register of Historic Places.
Check out the Windgate Art & Design Building on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (5210 Grand Ave.). Completed in 2015, this $15.5 million, 58,000-squarefoot gem features gallery spaces, letterpress and printmaking operations, and a 150-seat theatre to go with multiple classroom and studio spaces for UAFS students.
For a really interesting collection of boutiques and independent merchants visit Van Buren, practically a stone’s throw from the Fort Smith city limits. Up and down Main Street, the Old Town Merchants Association comprises a charming collection of antique stores and specialty retail including handmade soaps, a bookstore, one-of-a-kind clothing, jewelry and more.
Locals love Carrot Dirt (4300 Rogers Ave.) for organic juices, smoothies and treats, while great coffee can be had at Fort Smith Coffee Company (1101 Rogers Ave.). For lunch, grab a bite from one of the funky food trucks parked at Garrison Commons pocket park (913 Garrison Ave.). And for a great time anytime, be sure to check out the new Fort Smith Brewing Co., (7500 Fort Chaffee Blvd.) the first commercial brewery in town in two decades. Check out the rotating artists on display at The Artistic Bean (615 Garrison Ave.) while sipping a cup of coffee.
Stacy Bates of Stacy Bee Art is an artist and illustrator from Fort Smith. She graduated with a BA degree in art and a minor in education from the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville. Currently, she teaches art at Art, Woods and Beard Elementary School in Fort Smith.
She specializes in creating blackand-white, pen and ink illustrations, along with murals, that combine her two favorite styles—drawing and printmaking. The result is her signature vintage-esque imagery. Her work appears on a variety of projects, from gig posters for musical acts to Arkansas-themed drawings and illustrations. Over the past two years, she’s completed six murals in Arkansas and Oklahoma, from an, 8-by-7-foot scene on a Bentonville pub wall to a 355-square-foot outdoor mural in Fayetteville. She has also illustrated three books and recently participated in the Juried Group Show at Art on the Creeks in Rogers.
This year alone, her work has been on exhibit at Fayetteville Underground, Northwestern Arkansas Community College in Bentonville and Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles. Her recent focus has been creating a series of animal rights illustrations. stacybeeart.com