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Corn Palace murals not changing in 2016

It's a good year to be a Willie Nelson fan. The popular country/Americana artist is one of the many faces emblazoned across the Corn Palace in mural form, and those murals will stay one year longer than originally planned. Mitchell Mayor Jerry To...

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The current theme of the Corn Palace murals is Rock of Ages. (Matt Gade/Republic)

It’s a good year to be a Willie Nelson fan.

The popular country/Americana artist is one of the many faces emblazoned across the Corn Palace in mural form, and those murals will stay one year longer than originally planned. Mitchell Mayor Jerry Toomey said Thursday the city will keep the murals for another year, but will replace the grasses.

Every year, the city pays approximately $157,000 to redecorate the building’s exterior, including updates to the murals wrapped around the west and south walls of the building, as well as other grasses that are displayed on the building’s face. Earlier, Toomey suggested replacing solely the grasses in 2016 and leaving the murals up another year. He offered the idea, in part, as a cost-saving measure. Earlier this year, The Daily Republic reported the Corn Palace operated at a deficit of at least $300,000 annually from 2011 to 2015. In 2015, expenses topped revenues by $425,541, about $100,000 more than the net loss in 2014.

The idea has generated mixed reactions from citizens and officials, but Toomey said this year is a good chance to try out the idea, and see how the murals hold up for the second year.

Toomey said the timing is right, due to the construction work planned on Sixth Avenue. Sixth Avenue will be dug up in late August or early September to install a new plaza, or green space, directly south of the Palace. Toomey said workers installing the murals and those working on the plaza would likely be competing for space.

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Before Toomey could decide whether to keep the murals another year, City Attorney Justin Johnson had to review the city’s contracts with the corn grower and mural designer.

According to City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein, the existing contract with the artist for the design of the murals was a payment of $8,700 for 2014 and $8,950 for 2015. The payment made in 2015 would be for the next mural design that is put up, according to Ellwein.

City officials said the existing contract for the grower, Wade Strand, is a three-year agreement, and the original agreement was for 2014, 2015 and 2016. The amounts of those contracts were $55,000 in 2014; $57,000 in 2015; and $60,000 in 2016.

Toomey said Strand agreed to fulfill the third year of his contract in 2017 rather than 2016, which Strand confirmed Thursday afternoon.

Strand, who grows the colored corn and the rye for the Corn Palace decorations, said he understands the city’s desire to save money -- but also hopes officials understand the importance of the murals to the Palace’s appeal.

“I know why they’re doing it, they’re trying to make the Corn Palace not lose so much money,” he said. “At the end of the day, they need to keep in mind the corn is why people come to the Corn Palace.”

Strand said he had not planted any of the colored corn yet, and will put in an alternative crop instead.

The mural theme previously discussed for 2016 will be held until next year. In March, the Corn Palace Events and Entertainment Board discussed preliminary versions of the 2016 murals, which focused on the theme of weather. Murals were expected to include depictions of a tornado, rainfall, autumn leaves and a sunrise or sunset. Toomey said that theme will carry over into 2017, when the murals will be replaced.

Related Topics: CORN PALACESOUTH DAKOTA
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