For the second straight year, students in a special project class at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith received a unique opportunity to apply their artistic learnings by joining street artists from across the globe in painting murals in downtown Fort Smith.


Eleven students in Bryan Alexis’s mural painting class spent a week painting a sprawling mural across the side of The Blue Lion at UAFS Downtown, a music venue owned by UAFS, as part of The Unexpected, a 10 day arts and culture initiative in downtown Fort Smith.


Beginning with a projection on the building’s northern wall, students traced the outline of the mural’s design onto the brick before “attacking” the wall with paintbrushes, filling in the outline with bright reds, yellows and blues.


“Little by little, it all comes together,” Alexis said.


Given the building’s musical roots, the mural’s design was centered around Fort Smith music legend Alphonso Trent.


“Because of the rich ties to music, I immediately went to, ‘Who’s famous in Fort Smith that was also a musician?’ Somewhere down in the search, I found Alphonso Trent,” Alexis said. “He was one of the first African American bandleaders who paved the way for artists such as Duke Ellington. He was doing it first, back in the mid-twenties.”


The result was a stylized portrait of Trent surrounded by colorful renditions of various jazz instruments arranged across the length of the wall.


The mural is also a rare opportunity for students to leave a lasting impact on the city’s downtown area.


“Being able to paint a mural like this and meeting different artists from around the world, you really don’t get that opportunity at any other school really,” said Ashley Khakeo of Fort Smith, a student in the class. “Being in Fort Smith, we never thought we’d have a chance to be a part of something like this.”


Alexis agreed, calling the opportunity “an experience like none other.”


“The students are learning by doing, and it’s something they can immediately apply and use in their career,” Alexis said. “The students from last year are already getting jobs painting murals around the area. We’re driving economy, we’re driving creativity, we’re driving the artistic elevation of the region, and that’s coming from this class. Who could ask for anything more than that?”


Students who painted the mural were:


Alma: Nathan Meyers.


Charleston: Laney Taggart.


Fort Smith: Riley Casher, Brent Cherry, Josh Hendricks, Ashley Khakeo, Kit Ngo and Tien Pham.


Mena: Amber Lane.


Mansfield: Karolyn Manas.


Rudy: Eden Martin.


For more information about the university’s studio art program, visit


Article by John Post, Director of Public Information
Photo Credits: 
Video by John Post, Director of Public Information; Bryan Alexis, Assistant Professor of Art; and Troy Jarrel with G6M Productions.
Date Posted: 
Thursday, September 15, 2016
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