FD panel defends choice of mural artist

Group says public vote was only one factor in silo decision

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Maggie Carlin, associate planner with the City of Fort Dodge, shows off a model of the final design for the silo painting project.

Public input was just one element considered when a Fort Dodge group picked an Australian artist over a local one to paint a mural on the grain elevator on Hawkeye Avenue, members of the committee wrote in a newly released letter.

The letter was written in response to criticism of the panel’s choice of Guido van Helten to paint the grain silos.

Fort Dodge artist Josh Johnson won a public vote that was conducted by people who placed kernels of corn in jars.

“While the public was encouraged to vote, public support was only one piece of the judging criteria as stated in the request,” the group of 15 people who made the decision wrote in their letter. “Other criteria include artistic value created, image portrayed, project specifications being met, incorporation of the community’s message and competitive budget.”

The committee members wrote that the decision was theirs and was not made by the City Council.

“The City Council did not choose the artist or design,” they wrote.

The committee consists of Susan Ahlers Lehman; Terry Allers, a local architect; Martha Bice; Shelly Bottorff; Amy Bruno; Maggie Carlin, the associate city planner; Rhonda Chambers, the chairwoman of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance’s Image Committee; Jane Gibb; Kellie Guderian; Rochelle Green, a local photographer; Councilman Jeff Halter; Carissa Harvey, the senior city planner; Scott Johnson; Steve Kersten; and Hope Thier, the art educator at the Blanden Memorial Art Museum.

The concept of painting the long-unused grain elevator on Hawkeye Avenue near the entrance to Loomis Park was included in a 2015 master plan for the city’s Northwest River District.

A request for proposals from artists produced 16 designs. That total was trimmed to five.

The final five included van Helten’s design featuring images of Fort Dodge people and Johnson’s design which featured the Oleson Park Bandshell, the High Bridge over the Des Moines River and other local scenes.

Other entries included a collage by Brent Holland, of Des Moines; an image of children in a field by Rolf and Peter Goetzinger, of Spokane, Washington; and prairie flowers by Hannah Wilson, of Durango, Colorado.

The selection of van Helten was announced July 26.

In the newly released letter, committee members cited the artist’s experience with large murals; the likelihood that his design would age well; the fact that his proposal was $20,000 under budget; and the opportunity to have an internationally-known artist work in Fort Dodge as the reasons for selecting van Helten.

A petition opposing the decision was launched July 28.

The petition states, “Let us show the city of Fort Dodge we want to support our local artist and disagree with their decision.”

Johnson told The Messenger that he does not want the committee to change its decision.

“I can’t deny the guy,” he said. “They have already told him he has won. I don’t want them to reverse the decision at all.”

He added, “I like his art. It is really well done.”

Here is the letter released by the committee which chose the silo mural design:

Recently concerns were raised regarding the selection of the design for the Grain Silo Mural project. Additionally, the City Council received a petition signed by many people that incorrectly stated that the City Council chose the artist. This letter is being written to correct some misinformation regarding the process and address concerns raised.

The City Council did not choose the artist or design. The Grain Silo Mural is being funded by grants and donations that seek to establish public art in Fort Dodge and further the completion of the Northwest River District Revitalization Plan. It is not being funded by taxpayer dollars. The selection of the artist was made by a group of individuals with a passion and expertise in the arts. This committee, for lack of a better term, includes members of the Fort Dodge Fine Arts Association, the Image Committee of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, the Catherine Vincent Deardorf Charitable Foundation, city staff as well as interested volunteers.

At the heart of current concerns is the selection of Australian artist Guido van Helten and his proposed conceptual design rather than local artist John Johnson. This is based on Josh Johnson’s design winning the public’s cast your kernel vote held at public locations. The concerns raised are based on the misunderstanding that the cast your kernel vote was the deciding factor in the selection. With that in mind, we would like to make the following clarifications.

While the public was encouraged to vote, public support was only one piece of the judging criteria as stated in the request. Other criteria include artistic value created, image portrayed, project specifications being met, incorporation of the community’s message and competitive budget.

All five finalist designers have received a $1,500 stipend for their submitted proposal, as stated in the final request sent out to all finalist designers.

The 15-member committee’s reasons for unanimously selecting van Helten’s design include the following:

• Van Helten has vast experience painting large-scale murals on existing monuments. He has used several concrete buildings and grain elevators/silos as his canvases. Mr. van Helten will be installing (i.e. painting) the murals himself. Mr. Johnson’s proposal stated his mural would have been painted by a qualified installer out of Canada. The majority of the project cost will be spent on installation — materials and labor. Thus, in either case, the funds would not have been spent on an installer from Fort Dodge.

• Based on his experience, van Helten’s art is designed to age best over time and has longevity. It requires low maintenance and the neutral colors would fade over time when compared to bright, vibrant colors.

• Van Helten’s art was nearly $20,000 under the maximum budget, while Johnson’s installer’s preferred paint type would have put the project over budget.

• Van Helten’s selection provides the opportunity to have an internationally-known designer paint here in Fort Dodge. His proposal is something unseen here in Fort Dodge — in fact, his installations exist in only three other locations in the United States. His subjects (people) are the heart of our community.

The figures represented on the design are all real people from photographs that Mr. van Helten took while he visited Fort Dodge. Consistent with his process, he paid his own way to visit once after the first request for proposals was released, and a second time after the final request for proposals was released. In his second visit, he spent some time in the limestone mines, went fishing with a local fisherman, rode with a farmer during spring planting, observed recreation in Fort Dodge, attended Stage Door Production’s “Cabaret — A Night of Musical Theatre,” toured the Ringland/Smeltzer House and more, as seen in the images proposed. Through these visits Mr. van Helten developed his design. Guido van Helten has completed many great works, and we are privileged to have him interested in making his mark in our community. To see more of van Helten’s work, visit www.guidovanhelten.com or find him on Facebook.

All proposals submitted were of outstanding design. The committee greatly appreciates the public’s interest and passion for this project.


Susan Ahlers Leman

Terry Allers

Martha Bice

Shelly Bottorff

Amy Bruno

Maggie Carlin

Rhonda Chambers

Jane Gibb

Kellie Guderian

Rochelle Green

Jeff Halter

Carissa Harvey

Scott Johnson

Steve Kersten

Hope Thier