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Artist completes mural on silos despite winter and pandemic

The city is treating the mural as a conversation starter meant to honor Indigenous people's culture in Mankato.

MANKATO, Minn. — Last fall, Australian artist Guido Van Helten was asked to paint grain silos that were visible from the highway leading into the city of Mankato.

Van Helten, would then tackle the biggest project he has ever worked on, through a Minnesota winter and through a global pandemic. 

Nine months later, the mural has been completed.

If there was a sign to inspire you to see the bigger picture, the mural might just be it.

"The mural is an amazing conversation piece that changed the community, honestly," Megan Schnitker said. 

Schnitker is a Mankato resident who wears many hats. She's an entrepreneur, a business owner, a mother, the Vice Chair of Mahkato Wacipi as well as a board member for the Twin Rivers Arts Council. 

Schnitker said she knows change, when she sees it.

"We have a terrible history here with Indigenous people," Schnitker explained. "Mankato, this was the largest mass hanging just down the road a few hundred feet. And to have this mural here is huge for this community to change the conversation of Indigenous culture."

Back in December of 2019, when 90 degree days and sunny skies felt like a dream, KARE 11 interviewed Guido Van Helten about his inspiration behind the work. He said his muse was an annual pow wow that he attended where he saw children dancing.

"She's leading the way, and the other kids are sort of moving with her," Van Helten had said back in December.

In the moment that Van Helten had painted, captured on the biggest scale, is an image of togetherness and innocence.

"It's really a snapshot of our community and the different cultures that are present here," Janie Hanson, the Interim Executive Director of the Twin Rivers Arts Council said. "Having the children dancing and learning about each other's culture is I think a really beautiful way to share and connect."

The best part of the mural is that the children in the mural are real.

"The girl in the corner [in the mural] in the jingle dress, her name is Heaven Bad Horse," Schnitker said. "She comes from the Milk's Camp community in South Dakota. I've known Heaven since she was a baby."

Schnitker added that Heaven is depicted in the mural, wearing a dress that she had made for her. To see that, and a familiar face, Schnitker said she feels proud.

"I feel empowered, I feel comfortable," she said. "It brings you a sense of joy and happiness to me to see all those different kids on there."

The silos are now a reminder that America moving forward can be a place unabashed about unity.

"It's what I hope the next generation is going to do, come together and see, learn about each other," Schnitker said. "It's gorgeous. It's an amazing moment that is captured forever."

The Silo Art Project was completely privately funded. It cost $250,000. If you are curious, you can find more information here.

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