A Spanish Artist Thought His Arkansas City Needed Some Color, So He Transformed a Decrepit House Into a ‘Rainbow Embassy’

Fort Smith is home to a surprising amount of public art, which aims to revive the city’s derelict downtown.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.
Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

If you’re cruising through the residential areas of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and you see a wildly painted house that shines like a rainbow come to Earth, you’re probably looking at the latest public art project in a municipality that punches above its weight in such programming.

This jubilant new art project, dubbed Rainbow Assembly, is by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel. Invited by the “curation and production firm” Justkids, San Miguel has given a makeover to a big, run-down house near a public school in a residential area, transforming it into a riot of color. The newly enlivened building sports multicolored stripes, stars, squiggles, and other geometric patterns, as well as the faces of two creatures, reminiscent of a dog and a bird.

San Miguel’s intervention is his second artistic undertaking in Fort Smith; in 2019 alone, he’s also created projections for the Havana Biennial, a high-rise apartment building in Moscow, and a show at San Francisco gallery Heron Arts.

But this Arkansas city, which has previously hosted projects by an international roster of street artists, holds a special place in San Miguel’s heart. “I loved coming back to Fort Smith,” he said in a statement about the project. “It’s a very peaceful place to create, and it was the perfect balance after having worked in Manhattan and just before heading into the madness of Miami Art Week.”

“Taking into account the fact that the work would be immersed in a community, next to a school and residences, the idea of mythical animals as a family unit interested me,” San Miguel told Artnet News via email. “The structure also let me in this direction, as I wanted to integrate the small shed in a playful way”.

How did this seemingly unlikely city become home to projects by such an impressive cadre of artists? It all comes down to Steve Clark, a serial entrepreneur who grew up in the area and who aimed to revitalize the largely abandoned historic downtown of Arkansas’ second-largest city, with a population of just 90,000.

To that end, Clark recruited French-American curator Charlotte Dutoit’s Justkids, which specializes in producing public art projects, to organize The Unexpected, an annual arts festival that includes installations, murals, and public art. It’s been ongoing since 2015, and has brought work by artists including Ana Maria, D*Face, and Crystal Wagner to town. Justkids, which has offices in New York and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has also created public art projects in cities from Las Vegas to Boston. (Its name comes from Dutoit’s memories of her beginnings in underground and DIY art scenes in Paris and her feeling that sometimes the art world is too serious.)

“Okuda’s high spirited and immersive works are a true gift of joy to the community,” said Dutoit in a statement, adding that they are “​nothing short of a dream come true.”

See more photos of San Miguel’s project below.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.

Okuda San Miguel, Rainbow Embassy, 2019. Photo courtesy JustKids.


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