Last summer, the Shakopee Chamber of Commerce’s new Main Street Coordinator Laura Pecaut shuttled residents via pedicab to and from the Derby Days celebration at Huber Park.

When she pedaled them by the Holmes Street tunnel, she asked every one of her riders what they could envision painted there for a community mural. Many were surprised there was even a tunnel there. Most, she said, just “didn’t want to see graffiti.”

The tunnel, which links downtown to a bike trail along the Minnesota River, has been a frequent canvas for graffiti over the years. That, and a retaining wall visible to County Road 101 commuters, will soon have a new look.

On March 21, five teams will compete in the “Battle of the Brushes,” a mural contest that pits five design teams against each other. The winning design, chosen by popular vote, will be featured on the tunnel mural.

The teams have plenty of ideas. One team from Shakopee High School, the Latino club, has considered a design with a guitar and musical notes of various colors. Maybe a pair of hands clasped in a handshake with sleeves representing different countries. Or maybe Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) sugar skulls.

“I think the challenge is coming up with one thing,” said the club’s adviser, Mary Hernandez.

The high school’s Advanced Placement art class team is keeping mum about its idea.

The team, the “Paintbrush Sabers,” would reveal only that it will look modern.

“Something simple and clean,” said Chindaphone Soukhoummalay, 17. “We only have a few hours.”

Their art instructor, Rachel Paulson, is glad the students are part of the contest.

“I’m just so excited to see students wanting to be involved in their community,” Paulson said. “I think it gives the work they do meaning.”

Other teams include a group of junior-high-school students and groups from Canterbury Park and Valleyfair. The groups have four hours to paint 8-by-8-foot murals. The event, with music and refreshments, will be open to the public. Later that day, the site turns into a pop-up art gallery, where the public can view and vote on the designs. Other local artists will also have work on display.

There will be a “paint splatter wall” for frustrated artists to throw paint, and a community wall that invites residents to paint their own designs.

“It can be words. It can be landmarks. It can even be a smiley face,” Pecaut said. “That will be a hodgepodge crazy wall.”

The community can also vote for mural designs online through April 23. “The more places we can show people what we’re thinking of, the better,” Pecaut said.

After tallying results, a professional muralist will translate the winning design into a 1,000-square-foot mural that extends through the tunnel and around to a section of the retaining wall facing the river.

Sprucing up downtown

The project is part of the Main Street Program, an effort started last year that connects the Chamber of Commerce with community volunteers to work on downtown revitalization efforts.

Lowe’s has donated paint, supplies and volunteer labor. The space for the pop-up event was donated by a business owner, Scott O’Brien, who is renovating the building.

He called the mural “a worthy cause,” adding, “I just hope nobody defaces it.”

Pecaut said research has shown community involvement reduces the likelihood of vandalism, one of several reasons the committee hopes to hire a muralist who will involve the community in painting the actual mural. Pecaut envisions community painting days, such as a “Tom Sawyer painting event,” inspired by the nearby river.

Cyclists on the Minnesota Valley State Trail, which runs along the retaining wall and connects with regional trails, will see the artwork. It will also be in view of drivers along the County Road 101 Bridge, where Pecaut said traffic should increase this fall after construction expands the bridge from two to four lanes. She pointed to a plan commissioned by the city that anticipates an additional 1,600 vehicles per day.

Pecaut said the design committee would eventually like to see the mural project extend farther down the retaining wall, all the way from the Holmes Street Pedestrian Bridge to the County Road 101 Bridge. For that entire project, they had an initial fundraising goal of $30,000.

“It will be less than that to just paint the wall through the tunnel,” Pecaut said. “We can really do this project in stages.”

Money will be raised through grants and donor contributions. Also, each team needs to raise at least $500 to participate in the Battle of the Brushes.

Paintbrush Saber team member Emma Schoenfelder, 17, likes the idea of more public art.

“When you go around Shakopee,” she said, “you don’t see any art anywhere.”

Her teammate Julia Hance, 16, is also a fan of the idea.

“It helps to have art in places like that,” Hance said. “I think art really ties people together.”


Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities-based freelance writer. Her e-mail is