French artist Camille Walala descended on Fort Smith, Arkansas, to flip a disused 1950s gas station into an unexpectedly bright piece of public art. Nestled on a sharp corner joining two boulevards, Walala and the women-led creative house Justkids saw an opportunity for a low-budget but high-impact project and needed little more than cans of colorful paints. “I love this canvas,” said Walala, “it was exciting to do something really bold, that stands out on a bigger scale.”
Using joyful geometric designs rendered in contrasting primary colors, Walala exercised her signature hybrid style over the space by using a mix of tribal-inspired bold patterning and Pop Art color palettes. The result is a social hub for the town that also serves as a visual landmark, and its success is a reminder that urban regeneration doesn’t necessarily need to be built from the ground up. This unique approach to urban planning is at the core of Justkid’s mission, aligning with their goals to “propel place-making by delivering art experiences that create a unique sense of community.” Since the house’s founding in 2014, Justkids has completed over a dozen projects around the world, emphasizing color and playfulness in each collaboration.
The gas station was reimagined thanks to the help of many local volunteers, many of them teenagers, as well as a collaboration with local artist Nate Meyers. The curator of Justkids, Charlotte Dutoit, commented on the transformation saying, “After five years of curating diverse visual projects in Fort Smith, I learned that a big part of good place-making is creating community and a sense of re-discovery of the beauty that is there, in the city, all along, and Camille’s work does just that.”
This spirit of architectural preservation and the re-presentation of history is not only socially impactful but also sustainable, offering a second chance for forgotten or unloved architecture across the country. This collaboration with a visual artist to actively rejuvenate a space, and not only stamp landmark protections on preservation documents, incited real change for the community and sets a precedent for future projects worldwide.
In just one week, Walala was able to synthesize inspirations from the Memphis movement to the women of the Southern Ndebele tribe and make a lasting impression, with only a formerly placeless intersection as her canvas.