Coonalpyn – The BEST regional main street in South Australia
The award-winning Creating Coonalpyn initiative was a $100,000 joint project of the Council with key partners Country Arts SA and Viterra. While the project delivery was complex, the aim was simple: rural renewal through the arts.
It also included sponsorship from local businesses and individuals to the tune of $25,000, which assisted in the incredible marketing campaign, helping to amass the attention of more than half a billion people online (globally), and earn a swag of State and National awards.
The decline of Coonalpyn was originally floated by a young primary school lad, who approached one of the Council directors and posed the question: “Why isn’t Coonalpyn as pretty as Tintinara and Tailem Bend (two other towns in the Council area). And here came the inspiration for a rural arts program, deftly led by the Council. This, coupled with a well-timed piece of media on what was happening in the small Victorian town of Brim got the Council leaders thinking about what was really possible in our humble little town of Coonalpyn.
What most people have heard about is the towering silo mural, painted on the five-cell structure by world-renowned artist Guido van Helten. However, what’s lesser known are the other incredible works abutting the town’s main street which form part of the six-part project to breathe life back into a dying town. Alongside the silo depiction of local children at play, are other artworks including a giant mosaic, underpass art panel reinvigoration, a fence installation of a giant eagle head and sewing appliques.
All of these projects together have contributed to a major capacity building program for the town, its people, economy, regional tourism and so much more. Coonalpyn is now, proudly one of the most photographed towns in rural South Australia. It has won national and state awards, most recently being named South Australia’s 2017 Best Regional Main Street. Not bad for a town with a population of just 200.
Visitors to Coonalpyn can spend a day walking the main street and exploring the public artwork now entrenched as part of the Coonalpyn culture (and while you’re there you can taste some of the famous waffles, experience some of the best rural pub hospitality, or have coffee and take in the silos at the new café and bakery across the road from the silo mural).
So make sure next time you’re passing through the Dukes Highway town of Coonalpyn you stop, take an obligatory selfie and actually spend time exploring our beautiful little town. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
To find out more about the Creating Coonalpyn project, see our FAQ’s below:
What is the design on the silos of?
The Coonalpyn Silos Mural features five local junior primary school children in various poses, including two children looking to be drawing onto the face of two of the silos.
The final design concept draws inspiration from photographs taken during artist Guido van Helten’s first week in Coonalpyn in February 2017 at a workshop with Coonalpyn Primary School students. During the workshop, the children were asked to create figurative drawings of themselves on small-scale interpretations of the town’s silos. The mural represents growth in creativity, community spirit and local identity for existing younger generations and future visitors to the town.
Full creative license was given to the artist (Guido van Helten) to create what he believed would best reflect community spirit, culture and local identity. Alongside the project team, Guido was conscious of ensuring Coonalpyn was not going to simply be ‘another Brim’ (The now famous Brim silo mural, also painted by van Helten and depicting farming identities in their region), but instead wanted something unique.
The completed work incorporates the south, east and north faces of the silos, promoting interactive viewing opportunities and encouraging visitors to park and walk around the silo to photograph different viewing points.
How long did the project take?
Coorong District Council first engaged the artist early in 2016. He arrived to start research and painting in February 2017, and by the end of March 2017, it was complete.
Who is in the paintings?
The five subjects of the mural are real children who live and go to school in Coonalpyn. The individuals in these photos were chosen at random by the artist, without any direction/interjection from third parties.
How did Council (and/or the artist) decide what/who the design would be of?
The final design concept draws inspiration from photographs taken during artist Guido van Helten’s first week in Coonalpyn. While the final design process had to be approved by both Council and Viterra (the infrastructure owner) for legal reasons, full creative license was given to the artist to create the concept based on what he believed would best reflected the community spirit, culture and local identity.
How did the artist create the mural?
The mural took 200 paint cans to create. A huge cherry picker was hired by the Council and operated from the artist to enable him to reach the 30-metre high face of the silos. Using photographs as reference, the artist first drew a giant grid onto the face of the five silos and then sprayed paint to create the designs.
How did Council engage the community in the project?
The community have been engaged in the entire Creating Coonalpyn project (a suite of six public art installations) since March 2016. Engagement included the formation of the Coonalpyn Community Arts Group, which met regularly with the Council project team and the artist, and acted as an advisory on the project.
Community workshops and events have been open to the public on various occasions since the project’s inception, offering opportunities for people to ‘have their say’ on creative arts initiatives for Coonalpyn.
A community event was held at the Coonalpyn Football Clubrooms on February 1, 2017 (the day the artist arrived), where local people had the chance to speak with project leaders and the artist on their thoughts on the project.
School workshops were held with students from Coonalpyn and Coomandook schools in early February 2017, giving Guido a chance to capture input from a younger audience as well.
Council has had a very public and engaging social media campaign on the project – offering opportunities for local people and stakeholders to have their say on the project through this public forum as well.
How has the project benefited the community?
The town of Coonalpyn is located on South Australia’s Dukes Highway, a busy highway linking Adelaide to Melbourne. About 4000 vehicles pass through the town daily, with few stopping in the town prior to the project.
- During the month-long creation of the mural, Coonalpyn became the most-photographed regional town in South Australia, and possibly even Australia
- The mural attracted the attention of media locally, national and internationally, with the BBC and CNN both reporting on the project
- Reports show that more than half a billion people worldwide have now heard of, or followed the project’s progress online
- During the painting process, an estimated 40 to 50 vehicles stopped each hour in Coonalpyn to take in the sights
- The town hosted an RV festival Silo Sights: RV Basecamp to coincide with the mural painting, attracting more than 100 people to the small local caravan park and further injecting thousands of dollars into the local economy. This will now be an annual event.
- Three new businesses have opened in the town as a direct result of the silos mural, including the aptly named Silos Café.
- A further national chain plans to open later in 2017, and existing businesses have invested in their operations.
- Nearly a dozen new jobs have or will be created in 2017 as a result.
- The Creating Coonalpyn evaluation is in the process of analysing the collective impact of the projects as a vehicle for regional renewal. Interim findings from project participants indicates that not only are the hopes of a ‘lifeline’ expressed at the outset well on the way to being met, but also unexpected social benefits have arisen through working together on a suite of projects over an extended period. Participants have developed and celebrated ingenuity, risen to challenges, brought disparate people together, found a willingness to support each other, a capacity to plan and experienced immense pride at what they’ve contributed to their community.
What else should I know?
- A Creating Coonalpyn Snapchat filter is now functioning within the town boundary – take a look and snap away!
- Council, along with the Coonalpyn Arts Group are now planning for ‘Stage Two’ of Creating Coonalpyn.
- A documentary film on the project was released in May 2017, telling an intimate story about how Creating Coonalpyn has brought the town back to life (see the film here).
- Visitors can also use a recently installed silo scenic frame for the perfect photo.
- Merchandise is available from local businesses and from the Council offices (including stubby holders, postcards, pens, mugs, tea towels and more).
- Coonalpyn has THE BEST waffles in Australia. Just look for the big waffle on the main street and make sure you call in for a sample.