International muralist Guido van Helten went to work on his latest project the morning of Aug. 15, suspended dozens of feet in the air next to McKinney’s historic concrete silos and grain elevator with the help of a lift machine.

The city’s Silo Mural Project is not finished yet, but van Helten intends to complete the mural’s installation by the end of August. Completion will signal the end of a citywide project that started in July 2021, which included citizen surveys and partial funding from grants and donations, according to the city website.

Van Helten has completed mural projects across the world, including Greece, Canada, Finland and the United States. He had previously worked on another silo mural in Minnesota as part of a series called “Monuments” that was completed in 2020, according to his website.

Amy Rosenthal, the previous director of McKinney Main Street and McKinney Performing Arts Center, had seen some of van Helten’s work, Interim Director Andrew Jones said. Van Helten’s work spoke to the department’s staff because his process leads to an accurate representation of the community he is working in, Jones said.

Van Helten spends time interviewing and photographing residents of the community he is working in, according to a city news release. In preparation for McKinney’s Silo Mural Project, he took more than 5,000 photos, interacted with residents, and visited small businesses, nonprofit organizations and places of worship, according to the release.

Jones said there was “an amazing quality” to van Helten’s photorealistic style, especially on such a large scale. Jones specifically enjoyed the people depicted in van Helten’s murals that represent the communities, he said.

“There’s just a wow-ness factor to that,” Jones said.

Assistant City Manager Kim Flom said the mural provided a chance to represent McKinney’s culture and soul in an area that is changing rapidly. The project is located across the street from the planned McKinney Municipal Complex, which should break ground this fall, according to the news release. Construction crews demolished the historic McKinney Coal & Ice Company Building earlier in August, after multiple structural assessments were conducted in 2021.

Between downtown McKinney west of US 75 and the historical legacy neighborhoods further east, the area has been underutilized, Flom said. Not much had changed before, but a lot is changing now, she said.

“This piece of art on this historic structure is a way for us to say, ‘You know what—McKinney has strong roots.’ We have a strong culture, and it kind of anchors all that redevelopment within that framework,” she said.

Van Helten spent time engaging with the community in April and May before starting work on the mural in June. He planned the mural’s subject to be a dynamic crowd of people, with some in focus and others out of focus. It was hard to paint, and it made this project different from others he has completed, he said.

With the McKinney Municipal Complex planned to be built across the street, van Helten wanted the mural to interact with that public space while suggesting everyone was a part of it. The idea was partly inspired by seeing crowds at the park in the summer, he said.

“I want to give the impression to people that they are amongst this crowd,” he said.