Not the first place you think of for a mural festival: Salina, Kansas. But there are new mural festivals in downtowns across the globe right now, and their longevity, among other barometers for success, varies greatly. In addition to having a distinct point of view, we have observed that towns and cities that are beginning public art projects must have a serious budget and an excellent sense of organization. “Boom!” appears to have both.
The pacing has been good too – with the Australian Guido van Helten starting the momentum by painting a sweet scene in 2021 of local children here on the ‘canvas’ that has become a signature for him, a cluster of grain elevator silos. His realistic renderings, fully contextual, are romantic without becoming sentimental and outpace many with his painterly can-control and technical ability. Somehow the Brisbane native may have lit this fuse.
Following that Salina Kanvas project (there are a few initiatives on the boards) comes the first organized festival with a solid mix of talents from the international scene crossing murals, street art, and graffiti roots – not easy to accomplish with such a short roster. Like van Helten, the talent is self-assured, and some of it goes deep in self-knowledge and in the culture that fuels today’s scene. Thanks to private donations, corporate sponsors, and the Chamber of Commerce, initiatives like this community-building public art project are well-backed.
Add to this mix the world-renowned photographer Martha Cooper, who captured the scene that birthed this one about 45 years ago in neighborhoods where it started, and balance it with the high-flying image of Kansas’ most famous pilot Amelia Earhart, who pioneered aviation and capitalized well off her self-made brand. This year’s curation may well have put Salina on the mural-fest map in one fell swoop.
Martha shares some of her shots with us today – with a few from the organizers as well.
Not that the town of 45,000 of wheat, Wesleyans, and women in aviation doesn’t have an organic graffiti scene; It’s here. You can find examples of Salina’s fight against it, including advice on discouraging it with, well, murals. It’s good to recognize that most, or not all, of the participants in Boom! also sharpened their skills by painting graffiti illegally on the street.
Ms. Cooper tells us that “I would have liked to have time to shoot more freights,” a historical method for transporting unsanctioned art and writing across the country on the sides of freight trains that is peculiar to American history as it braids with archetypes of rebels, hobos and cowboy mythology. “The train tracks run through Salina,” Cooper remarks with some relish, and she notes smaller details that a documentary photographer would catch. “The main street had lovely plantings of prairie grasses evoking what we outsiders think of as typically Kansas.”
Here is a sampling of the works and artists from this inaugural “Boom!”. We hear the second one will make some noise as well.
Boom! Salina is an annual mural festival in downtown Salina, KS. Boom! Salina is backed by the Salina Kanvas Project.