Recognizing the arts as a way to enhance the community, the city of McKinney is looking to install a vast new mural on its downtown silos. It will add to the number of murals currently in the city.

The city has tapped Australian artist Guido van Helten to create a mural on the silos and grain elevator on Louisiana Street across from Hwy. 5 on the McKinney Mill building. The primary funding source will be grants and contributions, with any gap funding coming from the city’s hotel occupancy tax, not to exceed $380,000.

The mural on the silos would serve as a visual bridge between downtown’s current attractions and the upcoming revitalization projects on the east side of Hwy. 5, officials said, since the silos are visible from Virginia Street in downtown. In January the city launched a new website detailing the projects for this area, including the relocation and expansion of Tupps Brewery, the new municipal complex and road projects.

The downtown commercial district has more than 120 local shops and more than two dozen restaurants, per the city website. Over the past decade, public murals have become more prominent in downtown McKinney. The pandemic sparked “a new energy for public art” in downtown, said Amy Rosenthal, director of McKinney Main Street and the McKinney Performing Arts Center.

“Public art helps make your community beautiful,” said Rosenthal. “It shows that we’re vibrant and creative. And there’s also the economic benefit of public art in the community—it attracts visitors and helps with promotions.”

Mural momentum in McKinney

In late 2011 the city established the framework for its public art program. That paved the way in 2016 for the city’s first public mural on the exterior of the Cadillac Pizza Pub building. Today, there is a collection of sculptures and murals, especially in downtown.

“They bring a sense of place and vibrancy to the community and allow us new ways to showcase our cultural district,” Visit McKinney Executive Director Dee-dee Guerra wrote in an email. “It is more like a conversation with our visitors that reveal our city’s history, values and stories.”

McKinney City Council allots funds each year to encourage culture, and the McKinney Arts Commission advises the city on how to distribute these funds. The commission helps provide sculptures and public art for the city and nonprofit grants for arts.

The city’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget set aside $200,000 for arts. Of that amount, about 10% goes to public art initiatives that require a match from a private organization. Projects have also received grants from Visit McKinney in addition to support from the McKinney Arts Commission, Rosenthal said. Visit McKinney grants are funded from hotel occupancy tax revenue.

McKinney Arts Commission Chair Molly Brewer-Hahn said she hopes the silo project brings visitors to the city, gives more exposure to local artists and sparks more projects.

“What I suspect [van Helten] will discover is our spirit of resiliency and kindness and generosity, especially in tough times,” she said.

Rosenthal described the piece as a “community project.” She said van Helten plans to interview members of the community and create a series of portraits to highlight the city’s “diversity, culture and spirit.”

Efforts for the arts

Artist Andrea Holmes has a studio at MillHouse at the McKinney Cotton Mill and got her start by painting inspirational messages on the windows of downtown during COVID-19, she said. Her first big mural came shortly after that when she turned some graffiti on the side of the Fair & Square Imports business into a 100-foot-plus mural. Since then she has been working on more murals for businesses.

“Within the last year, the mural business has really exploded for me,” Holmes said. “It’s all word of mouth, and the murals speak for themselves.”

She painted the mural on The Guava Tree Cuban Cafe & Cantina in downtown McKinney, commonly known as the “Viva McKinney mural.” Guava Tree owners Pam and Onel Perez said they wanted a mural to help with branding as they opened the restaurant’s brick-and-mortar location. They also wanted it to feel Cuban, they said. The mural captures an image of Onel’s mother, Ana Perez, in her youth.

“It just adds some personality, and it makes it personal for us,” Onel said.

Shannon McCarthy, the marketing and public relations director for Cadillac Pizza Pub, was part of the conversations to initiate its 2016 mural, which was painted by North Texas artist Misty Oliver-Foster.

The mural is one of the first things people see when they drive into that parking area, McCarthy said, and it adds to the city’s attractions.

“We thought [the mural] would be a great addition to downtown McKinney,” she said. “When people come to the parking lot and they see that painting, it’s a natural choice for them to consider the restaurant.”

Oliver-Foster said she likes that people enjoy her murals.

“In today’s age with Instagram, I think it’s a great place for people to collect together, to take photos of yourselves,” she said.

To that end, the murals help draw cultural travelers to McKinney, Guerra and Rosenthal said. Visit McKinney frequently works with social media influencers to help establish McKinney’s reputation outside the city, and these visitors love the artistry the murals provide for posts, Guerra said.

“We frequently come across user-generated content featuring our local murals, many of which are influencers,” Guerra wrote in her email.

Attracting cultural tourists assists with McKinney’s designation as a cultural district, Rosenthal said. The city received the designation in 2018, and with it the Texas Commission on the Arts helps fund local projects, such as the neon downtown McKinney signs installed in 2019 and the butterfly installations.

“All of these initiatives bring in visitors that spend money and help benefit our community,” she said.

Upcoming projects

The silos mural should be unveiled sometime late next year, Rosenthal said. Meanwhile, McKinney will work to maintain the momentum it has built with a new painting being added downtown to the Woodsmen of the World Building, which houses Cadence Cyclery.

The city has also encouraged art projects beyond its downtown. MillHouse at the McKinney Cotton Mill east of Hwy. 5 created a series of murals on its facade earlier this year. In addition, a colorful new mural was recently installed along the back of a dental office on University Drive near Dillas Quesadillas.

Brewer-Hahn said the art projects create a sense of place that is important for a community.

“Public art ... draws people together that are from the same community but may be culturally different,” she said. “We can find common ground and beauty in whatever that art is.”