Art on the Border back in Fort Smith after two-year COVID hiatus

After years of successful shows and a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Art on the Border is back for Arkansas Colleges of Health and Education this year.

The shows will take place at 1000 Fianna Way in the former Golden Living Building from 5-9 p.m. Friday, July 22 and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, July 23.

Donna Skinner, Artist Coordinator, and Joan McCoy, Event Chair, organized a council of Fort Smith residents passionate about giving back to their city to organize events like Mercy Celebrity Classic, golf tournaments and galas.

For 30 years, the Classic Charitable Foundation has brought new ideas for charitable benefits to Fort Smith. Their most recent hit is Art on the Border.

In 2014, the first Art on the Border exhibition and sale took place in downtown Blue Lion.

McCoy said the foundation went through many years of trial and error with Art on the Border. Volunteers even cut their own cheese and brought out pretzels for the first show and sale.

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“Talk about starting over,” she said. “We did it, with all the volunteers, all these wonderful people who love working together and who care about giving, for our charities.”

During the two-year hiatus, Skinner stayed in touch with the artists from their previous shows.

“They painted and created their art a lot while they were housebound that first year, and then they caught the virus,” she said. “So they’re all really excited and ready.”

Painting by artist Jeanne Rorex Bridges presented at the Art on the Border 2019 exhibition and sale.

Maggie Malloy, an artist from Fort Smith, joined the foundation to help coordinate previous art exhibits.

McCoy and Skinner attended other art shows in Arkansas to find their artists for future exhibitions. In 2019, Art on the Border staged its biggest show yet with over 60 artists from across the South West region.

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This year, 77 artists come from Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas.

Skinner said the foundation prides itself on providing top-notch care to its performers who travel to Fort Smith for their shows and sales.

Volunteers assist the artists throughout the fair, helping them unload their works, setting up their exhibition stand and giving them a break for meals.

Skinner said 2019 was their “breakthrough year” in which they had 1,200 attendees and were able to donate $42,000 to Arts at Bost, Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, Gregory Treatment Center Kistler, the Hope Campus, the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support Home, and the Center for Art and Education in Van Buren.

Attendees of the Art on the Border exhibit and sale at the Blue Lion in downtown Fort Smith in 2019.

Skinner and McCoy want new art buyers to know that their artists have pieces available for as little as $5.

“We’ve got some amazing things, I mean, there’s been some amazing ones coming out of the woodwork,” Skinner said. “There is something for everyone.”

Many high-priced items are also available at the show and for sale.

“There’s the little things and the fun things and the functional art,” Skinner said. “There’s charcuterie boards and cutting boards. So it’s all of those things and everything art is for sale.”

Thirty percent of proceeds from art sold at this year’s exhibition will be donated to the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House, Gregory Kistler Treatment Center, Art’s at Bost and the Good Samaritan Clinic.

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Skinner said artists realize that they themselves could benefit from these organizations or help someone else in need.

Due to the pandemic, recipients are in particular need of additional funding this year.

“It’s always been our goal, this whole group, is to give back to our giving back community,” she said.

Now, the foundation also supports its grantees and regional artists featured at Art on the Border.

“We asked our board members for recommendations from nonprofits they are aware of,” McCoy said. “It’s not always the big ones everyone knows about, but some of the smaller ones who are doing a great job and struggling financially.”

McCoy said it was the people she met after her retirement from Roto-Rooter Plumbing and Drain Services ownership that kept her in volunteer work.

Joan McCoy (left) and Donna Skinner (right) at the Mercy Celebrity Classic hosted by the Classic Charitable Foundation in 2004.

“They’re doers. They’re givers, and they’re just good people,” she said. “I continued to be that volunteer and eventually I became president of these different projects.”

McCoy said of his friendship with Skinner that the two know how to be organizers and leaders, which was “a gift that God gave to both of us”.

Skinner said that without McCoy there would be no frontier art.

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