Community Opinion

Upside Down Under

Now here’s an idea!!!…
There’s an interesting phenomenon happening across southern Australia that could theoretically affect North Dakota in more ways than one.
By Marvin Baker
Since 2016, an artist, who goes by the name of Guido Van Helten, has been painting murals on the sides of grain elevators. Called silos in Australia, Van Helten started a trend, and now numerous artists have become involved and Van Helten’s work, which started in the wheat growing region of Western Australia, has spread across the country.
Postage stamps have been struck with the painted silos, motorists stop to see- which has created tourism in many of the small towns, and these places that even Australians hadn’t heard about are getting national news coverage. In some places, they’ve arranged wine tours with stops along the route to see the artwork.
ABC News 9, a national TV network in Australia, reported the town of Rochester, in the state of Victoria, has seen an incredible turnaround in its local economy thanks to grain silo art.
According to ABC News 9, a report released in June found the number of full-time equivalent positions in Rochester dropped by 20 percent between 2001 and 2016, with the most rapid decline occurring since 2011. Farming jobs were cut by almost 30 percent over the same 15-year period.
“The town has been feeling it,” said business network spokeswoman and local high school teacher Kate Taylor. She hoped the eye-catching design would encourage more of the 7,000 cars that drove through town every day to stop in Rochester.
“Quite often people go through on their way to the river, and they don’t always stop here unless they need to,” she said.
The artwork was still two weeks from completion, but Taylor said she was already noticing a rise in visitor numbers.
“It’s been busy, to say the least, almost chaotic on the weekend with the amount of traffic coming through,” she said.
The artists have made it a point to paint murals in small towns in an effort to help revitalize them. The art features flora, fauna, a sheep shearer, working women, combines, farmers in the their fields, the elderly and one of the murals is a giant pineapple.
Could something like this happen in North Dakota? Think about all the modern grain elevators in North Dakota; those blase-looking concrete structures could take on a whole new life, and small towns would see more people. We like to think of those old, wood, prairie skyscrapers as nostalgia, but the modern elevator has no character.
Take, for instance, the elevator at Max. It sits right next to U.S. Highway 83, a road in which a lot of people travel. Imagine what would happen to Max if there were murals on that elevator? It would become a destination, and when the word would get out that gas is always less expensive than other western North Dakota places, that little convenience store would be selling a lot of gas and personal pizzas.
There are now a lot of these structures in the state: Northwood, Regent, Bottineau, Finley, Valley City, Wimbledon, Berthold, Park River, Bowbells, Strasburg and lots of others. Concrete elevators also make up a good portion of the North Dakota Mill & Elevator in Grand Forks. What a gift that would be for the residents of Grand Forks.
Van Helton is paid through public and private funds. Grain Corp., a major cereal grain shipper in Australia, is funding part of the transformation there. It takes about 500 liters of paint to complete a mural.
I would encourage you to Google “Grain Silo art” and see what pops up. It will amaze you. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen, especially in a rural community. And it actually adds some quality to the otherwise lethargic concrete. Rural Australians have embraced this and now city tourists are driving to the small towns to have a look.
But it isn’t limited to Australia. Van Helten did a mural in Faulkton, S.D., and Fort Dodge, Iowa. Someone else painted a mural on the elevator in Grenfell, Saskatchewan, a small town 80 miles east of Regina.
We used to see ads on the sides of elevators such as Occident Flour, Elephant Brand Fertilizer or GTA Feeds. Those were ads. This is completely different because it depicts the people of rural Australia, and thus far there’s been no solicitation of any kind.

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