Karoonda’s winning formula for silo art brings benefits to business and tourism, years after paint dries

A South Australian town is reaping the rewards of its siled art years after the paint has dried and could serve as a model for other communities.

In 2019, the Mallee town of Karoonda used drought funding to transform its silos, giving Melbourne artist Heesco a giant canvas on which to paint a kelpie and sheep from a local farm.

In an Australian first, the city chose to leave the central silo empty for evening screenings.

Each month, different South African artists share their work on the massive concrete structure and the town has worked together to boost its tourism potential, with local shops remaining open and accommodation options improved.

Karoonda District Merchants Chairman Keith Wood said the town’s silo art had “put Karoonda on the map”.

“It’s also done a lot of good for businesses in the city,” Wood said.

Australian street artist Heesco based his Karoonda silo paintings on a working dog and sheep from a local farm.(Provided: Discover Karoonda/Juddy Roller)

Research supports broader strategy

Karoonda’s approach seems to have nailed the essence of what the research has identified, making the growing trend of public art work better for some cities than others.

And its success may be a model to help other regional communities considering painting their own silos.

Last year, researchers at Griffith University surveyed 1,100 businesses, residents and visitors and found that 47% had noticed a collective economic benefit from silo art.

Lead researcher Amelia Green said open stores and continued marketing were key to attracting visitors and increasing spending.

“And also recognizing that, like any other investment, it will need ongoing promotion and marketing.”

Two children with a dog in front of a silo.
Whiskey, the beloved dog of Ruby and Lucy Phillips, was immortalized on the silos of Karoonda.(Supplied: CK4 Photography)

Commercial boost for companies

The economic benefits of the silo artwork were felt by traders in Karoonda.

“We noticed it ourselves. We have a cafe on the main street and we have a lot of people passing by,” Mr Wood said.

Karoonda East Murray District Council opened four new powered sites at Karoonda Tourist Park last month and is planning further upgrades including two new self-contained cabins and a camp kitchen.

“Some people get up the night before and stay at the caravan park… it’s a good weekend, you can spend a few days here,” Mr Wood said.

Rural silos
Lameroo intends to paint its silos, as artist Jack Fran visited the town last year to consult with the community. (ABC Riverland: Eliza Berlage)

Model for future murals

Karoonda’s success could provide strategies for other cities considering turning silos into public art displays.

Lameroo in South Mallee appointed South Australian artist Jack Fran to paint its silos, and a community consultation in October was designed to ensure the artwork reflects the local community.

This connection to rural heritage and the character of a town has been identified by researchers as key, and Dr Green said this is why silo art has become so popular in Australia.

“There are a few painted silos in America and Asia, but it hasn’t caught on there,” she said.

“It is a place traditionally where communities gather and it symbolizes the collective achievement of the farming community.

“Most of the silo [art] celebrates everyday heroes, so that kind of tilt obviously resonates with the Australian psyche as well.”