The Impact of Art on a Small Town Economy

Monday, November 05, 2018

As internationally-recognized artist Guido van Helten painted a giant mural on a grain elevator in Faulkton this summer, the excitement was palpable. A live stream of the process provided a window into our small town and enabled people from all over the world to watch his progress.

Faulkton MuralFor more than 40 years, the Faulkton Area Arts Council has worked to ensure that art has a strong presence in the community. The mural project is one of several public works of art — albeit the largest one — that are expected to earn the town recognition and draw visitors from the region and beyond.

Now that the mural is completed, the potential ripple effects of the project are just beginning to become clear. There’s been an increase in tourists visiting to see the mural, which has meant an uptick in customers for local businesses.

Business Boost

The Faulkton Area Arts Council enlisted Crystal Kopecky as a photographer during and after the mural was created. A book of her photos will eventually be published. Over the course of her documentation, Kopecky has noticed a serious increase in traffic at the site. She believes the mural will provide benefits not just for Faulkton but for the entire state of South Dakota.

Faulkton Mural“The traffic I’ve seen while down there is unbelievable. There are times I couldn’t drive around the actual parking lot area of the elevator because there were so many people watching him paint,” Kopkecky says, adding that local business people near the mural estimated traffic has tripled.

Jody Moritz, president of both the Faulkton Area Arts Council and the Faulk County Historical Society says the mural has caused “a bit of an economic boom.” She gives tours of the Pickler Mansion and notes that it has been a particularly slow year. But a number of visitors who came to see the mural stuck around to tour the mansion, see other artwork around town, dine and shop.

Faulkton MuralMoritz cites several examples. An older woman from Aberdeen came to Faulkton with her daughter and son-in-law, who live in Texas, after reading about the mural in the Aberdeen newspaper. A couple from Minnesota was traveling to Spearfish and decided to stop to see the mural and then spent a few hours in town, riding the carousel and touring the mansion. A group of women from Pierre visited the grain elevator mural as well as the town’s other murals. They also spent time at the local quilt shop.

“It seems like somebody is coming every day, they heard about this and want to see it in person. It can only do good for the community,” says Lori Holt, who owns a local quilting shop called Quilter’s Corner “People are coming through and coming to see the elevator. Then they stop in to shop. That’s very positive for local business.”

Carrie Deiter owns the Shops at 163rd St. Design Co., which is across the highway from the mural. She’s noticed an increase in business, especially on Saturdays, from visitors coming to see the mural. Deiter, who is one of the admins of the Faulkton Area Arts Council Facebook page, says its posts about the mural have gotten a lot of attention too.

Dawn Melius has had a birdseye view of the action from her Farmers Union Insurance office on Main Street. She continually sees vehicles pulling over to take a look at the mural. She heard about a couple coming from Kansas City to see the mural and of bikers headed to Sturgis who detoured through Faulkton to catch a glimpse of it.

“The economic impact is brand new but it’s going to be absolutely noticeable and probably at a good time the way the farm economy is now,” Melius says. “Through the live stream and the beauty of social media, people are finding out about it and the buzz is extending beyond Faulkton,” Melius says. “I think we’ve barely begun to see what this will do for our community.”

Inspiring Awe and Community Pride

Beyond providing businesses a boost, many Faulkton residents point to the mural as a source of community pride. It will be the only van Helten work in South Dakota, which makes it particularly special. It’s also providing locals with inspiration and joy.

Faulkton Mural “When you see it in person, it’s awe inspiring — the scale of it and the talent that went into it,” says Melius. I really feel so blessed for our community to have it — of all the places in the world or state.”

Kopecky agrees, “You have to come see it in person. Once you see the magnitude of it … it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”

Deiter says each time she drives by the mural, she’s in awe. As a parent, the subject matter resonates with her. “One thing I love about it is that little boy on the east side with his little pair of blue jeans. I think many area parents can picture their child … It floods you with memories of your little guy walking to the barn and riding a horse in those little jeans.”

Holt also says people are astounded by the artist’s talent and the detail of mural. She also appreciates van Helten’s choice of children as subject matter. “It encourages youth to make Faulkton a positive place, to take on projects like this to help put us on the map, to get noticed by people from around the state,” she says. “The hope is that they grow up, move away and then come back to raise their own families.”

Faulkton MuralThe mural project is seen as an investment in the community that residents expect will have long term benefits. Melius points out that Faulkton is thriving rather than dwindling or just surviving like many rural towns. “That’s because individuals continually donate time and money to make things like this happen. It sparks hope and vision as far as what can happen in small communities.”

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On November 17, the public is invited to the Guido Gala, a red carpet affair and the premiere of a mini-documentary about the making of the mural. The celebration begins at the Short Stop Bar with cocktails and appetizers. Then attendees will take a bus to the mural and finally to the movie theater for a first time showing of a mini-documentary.

Limited tickets are available for $30, with funds going towards completion of the mural viewing stations and signage. Call or text Dave Hedt at 605-380-1817 to reserve tickets or buy them at The Shops.

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