Superior council lays groundwork for public art project

By approving a memorandum of understanding, the city council agreed to establish a relationship with artist Guido van Helten so planning and fundraising for the $400,000 project can begin.

The mural on the Agtegra elevator in Faulkton, S.D., can be seen for miles. Painted by Guido van Helten, this is the view drivers coming from the east have as they approach the town of 826 people.
Jenny Schlecht / 2018 File / Agweek

SUPERIOR — The city of Superior will enter into a memorandum of understanding with world-renowned artist Guido van Helten for what could become the city’s largest public art project.

The council approved the memorandum that lays the groundwork for working with the artist while officials put together a plan to find a location and raise money for the project.

Councilor Brent Fennessey asked if the cost of the project would be paid through designated funds set aside from money the city received through the American Rescue Plan Act. According to the memorandum, van Helten is expected to be paid $467,147 in anticipated fees.

“Most of this cost should be raised through fundraising,” Mayor Jim Paine said. “There’s no city money being designated. If they want city money, they’ll go through the regular grant process.”

Possible sources of funding could include the public art fund or grants available through rooms taxes administered by the tourism development commission, the mayor said. Other communities across the United States have successfully raised money so van Helten’s photo-realistic murals could be created in their communities, Paine said.


In Faulkton, South Dakota, population 826, the community raised between $70,000 and $80,000 for a van Helten mural that was painted on the Agtegra elevator there in 2018. Donations and grants from the South Dakota Farm Bureau, GROW South Dakota and the South Dakota Arts Council paid for the project.

“They look like photographs,” Councilor Mark Johnson said. “They are that amazing, so I’m excited, and I hope we can get some support from the community.”

Councilor Tylor Elm said he’s excited by the prospect but had questions about the paint that would be used and protecting the project in the long-term when it’s affixed to privately-owned property.

Councilor Lindsey Graskey, an advocate for public art in Superior, said she appreciated the councilors' questions, but adopting the memorandum would allow work to continue to answer many of them.

“I think with the agreement tonight, we’ll be able to get more of these questions answered. I have a plethora of information. I just wasn’t going to bombard the council yet," she said.

Councilors unanimously supported moving ahead with the memorandum of understanding.

“If you Google this guy’s work, it’s seriously incredible,” Fennessey said. “I think this is really a neat project to see in Superior.”

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
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