Fort Smith bus stops are getting a little more colorful through a partnership with First Presbyterian Church and the Transit Department.

Keley Simpson, First Presbyterian Church missions facilitator, said the Unexpected has inspired the community and she wanted to do something similar. Through the church partnership with the city, it provides matching funds for transit projects. This time, she asked missions team member Allison Ousley, 18, to do a pilot piece of artwork for installation at a bus shelter near Darby Junior High.

Ousley created the piece on her iPad, drawing inspiration from where she would want to visit in her head while at the bus stop. For her, it was a “colorful jungle place with weird houseplants.”

The spruced up shelter was successful, so the church started a contest. Students at selected schools would create artwork, using only acrylic paint, and the winners would eventually see their designs at a bus stop.

Kyra Chanthakhot, a rising freshman at Darby Junior High, was selected for the second shelter at Tilles Park. Her piece is called “The Creation of Adam” and is based on environmental protection.

Chanthakhot said she wants to encourage people to be good stewards of the planet, so future generations can experience its beauty, including animals like polar bears.

“I want them to see things we saw,” Chanthakhot said.

Elise Odle, Darby art teacher, bragged on Chanthakhot’s artistic abilities and the thought process behind her piece.

“I'm so pleased that she had the winning entry for the bus shelter contest,” Odle wrote in an email. “Her work is so insightful and inspiring; combining a classic Renaissance image with an issue facing us today through preservation of the Earth's resources.”

Simpson said shelter art is set to be installed at Spradling, Sutton and Tilles elementary schools.

Approximately 80 students entered the contest, and the remaining pieces are being donated to a nursing home, Simpson said.

“It’s made me really happy, because we wanted it to be something bigger,” said Ousley. “We didn’t want it to just be me and a trial project. I wanted to get other people involved and reach out to schools.”

The church wants to partner with the Transit Department to provide even more shelters with art as a way to beautify the city.

“I hope the kids will be able to look at our community and say, ‘Wow, I can make an impact in some way,’” Simpson said.

A study by the Urban Institute shows Fort Smith has a high level of food insecurity and high housing cost. The data indicates most food insecure residents work but simply can’t afford all the expenses. Part of the struggle is the cost associated with personal transportation or the current limitations on the Transit Department.

Simpson hopes the artwork will also inspire students and residents to have conversations about how the transit system can improve and ways to support those who use it. Many riders are elderly, single parents or simply those without access to a vehicle.

“You have an appreciation when you have your own vehicle, especially on a hot day or a day where you have to wait,” Simpson said. “We are blessed to have a transit system, but it’s definitely a luxury to have your own car.”

The project that started at the end of 2018 will cost approximately $4,000 to complete.

Odle is pleased to see the River Valley teeming with art through various projects, saying these initiatives are “giving such life and vibrance” to the area.

“We hope it inspires some local pride, because they’re all local kids,” Ousley said. “We didn’t reach out to other states or anything. It’s just people in the neighborhood.”

Ousley plans to attend Cottey College in Missouri next year to study art. Chanthakhot has four more years of school, but she would like to study botany and keep doing art on the side.