In a bold move that is reviving a local community, art takes centre stage on the striking Coonalpyn silos.
For drivers heading south-east of Adelaide, along the long, flat road to Melbourne, historically there’s not been a great deal to look at. Many of the once-thriving small towns and hamlets dotted along the Dukes Highway have become little more than a slight blip along the way – a reason to slow down for the speed limits, but certainly not enough reason to stop. This has resulted in local trade slowing and, in the long term, communities declining as the younger generations move elsewhere looking for work.
Taking a bold step in an effort to address this issue, the Coorong Council looked to the imposing grain silos on the side of the road in the small, hitherto unremarkable, town of Coonalpyn, 163 kms from Adelaide, and decided to make a feature of them. The council, along with local sponsors and Country Arts SA, established an arts-renewal program called “Creating Coonalpyn”, the flagship of which is a giant mural painted by Australian artist Guido van Helten on the 30 metre high silos.
A graffiti artist in his youth, van Helten is now noted for his exceptional photorealistic work which adorns walls and silos here, in Finland, the Ukraine and the United States.
Featuring several of the local primary school children, the Coonalpyn silos are now certainly eye-catching for all the right reasons and the mural is doing just what the council and local community had hoped. Instead of zipping through, visitors are stopping in the town to admire the work at a rate of about 40 per hour. Most also are taking the opportunity to grab a coffee or sandwich and, as a result, a new café and a grocery store have opened up, with plans for a third new food business to open in the coming months.
There’s a distinct feeling of pride in the Coonalpyn air these days and the locals are thrilled to be able to chat about the work, the process and the young subjects whose future will be changed because of van Helten’s work.
So – the next time you’re travelling along the Dukes Highway, make a point of checking out this remarkable artwork.
And the next time someone tells you that art isn’t important, tell them they’re dead wrong.