Mayor seeks support to bring world-renowned artist to Superior

“We want somebody that can represent us in the largest art project we ever had in the city,” Mayor Jim Paine said.

The mural on the Agtegra elevator in Faulkton, S.D., can be seen for miles. Mayor Jim Paine is seeking council support for a public art project in Superior that would tap the talents of the world-renowned visual artist, Guido van Helten, who created the mural at the Agtegra elevator.
Jenny Schlecht / 2018 File / Agweek

SUPERIOR — The city could partner with a world-renowned artist to develop the city’s largest-ever public art project.

Mayor Jim Paine is asking the city council to consider entering a memorandum of understanding with Australian-borne visual artist and photographer Guido van Helten.

Internationally recognized, van Helten is known for creating contemporary street art throughout the world that is underpinned by his exploration of community and identity generated through photography and large-scale mural installations.

“Art has to mean something,” Paine said. “And he is really looking to represent us as a people and a place, and that’s what we’re trying to invest in. That’s the partnership we want to create. We don’t just want a pretty picture. We can get anybody to do that. We want somebody that can represent us in the largest art project we ever had in the city.”

Best known for his work on grain elevators around the world and in the United States, van Helten’s work has also included photorealistic paintings on multi-story buildings in India, Iran, Europe, Scandinavia, the United States and Australia. His larger-than-life images have even been painted on the Wellington Dam in Western Australia.


Paine said he first became aware of the artist two or three years ago when Plan Commissioner Brian Finstad was the first of several people to point out van Helten’s work.

“There is no quote that I can give that will convey the kind of feeling or emotion you get when you see this guy’s work,” Paine said. “It is just so impressive, and it’s iconic, and we have some of the best opportunities in the world to host something like that.”

According to a documentary created by Emad Rashidi and van Helten in Faulkton, South Dakota — where one of van Helten’s murals captures the images of youth and life in the rural community on the Agtegra elevator — the work starts with discovery and study of place, and the town becomes part of the artwork.

“I’m using real people from real places to represent a lot and represent their communities,” van Helten said.

Paine said the goal of the memorandum of understanding is to secure a partnership with van Helten so planning can continue as the city works to establish an agreement for a project on a yet-undetermined site.

“The best site for something like this is going to be a grain elevator,” Paine said. “And those are private so we’re going to have to negotiate with the owner … You want something that has high visibility to folks. I do love the grain elevators that are on the bridge area. But we (would) have to secure partnership with those owners.”

The memorandum of understanding holds Superior’s place in line to work with the artist who offers something unique, Paine said.

“It’s really no significant commitment from the city beyond us staking our claim that we do want to work with him,” Paine said. “So, we will stay in line and be one of his projects. One of the reasons it’s taking so long is because … he is a unique artist worldwide. It’s really a privilege for Superior to be able to work with him. That’s the relationship that we’re securing.”


The council will consider the memorandum at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or
What To Read Next
Get Local