If you didn’t believe in the power of art to change an entire community’s history and fortune, then Sheffield, also known as Tasmania’s Town of Murals, is the perfect example to convince you.
Despite being located in a spectacular natural setting, at the foothills of Mount Roland, in north-western Tasmania, the small town of Sheffield needed something more to help it overcome a steady economic decline. The population of this typical Tasmanian settlement went up dramatically when construction of several hydroelectric plants began in the area, but once the development was complete, workers started moving away to newer prospects, which led to a decline both in population and local economy. By the mid 1980s, the people of Sheffield realized the gorgeous setting wasn’t enough to attract enough tourists to boost their economy, so they formed a tourism association that decided to follow the example of a Canadian town that had a similar economic clump, and turn Sheffield into an outdoor mural art gallery.
Soon after its inauguration, the Kentish Association for Tourism Inc. started investigating the story of Chemainus, a Canadian community on Vancouver Island’s east shore, whose inhabitants had painted murals on the walls around town, an idea that practically saved the municipality. After analyzing what worked for Chemainus, the people Sheffield decided to use the same recipe for success. It was decided “that Sheffield and other areas in Kentish would have an outdoor art gallery of heroic proportions, depicting the pioneering history of the district and its people. John Landis was commissioned to paint the first mural, and ever since it was unveiled in 1986, Sheffield has grown into a virtual outdoor art gallery known as the Town of Murals.
With a population of just around 1,000, Sheffield manages to draw in over 220,000 tourists every year, eager to admire the beautiful murals that decorate the town. According to the town’s official website, there are about 2000 square metres of its history, events, heroes and heartbreaks painted on the walls of this quaint settlement, just waiting to be discovered. The Town of Murals even hosts a week-long event known as the “International Mural Fest” that attracts artists from all over Australia who paint their interpretation of the same theme on boards placed in a specially-designed mural park. Nine finalists are selected, and their murals remain on display for 12 months, meaning nine new murals are added to the town’s extensive collection every year.