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Bismarck photographer grateful for spotlight despite lack of leads in Thunberg mural vandalism

Fargo police still have no leads after April 2020 incident

A wet plate photograph mural of Greta Thunberg on a tan building in Fargo
The Greta Thunberg photographic mural is seen on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, in downtown Fargo.
David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — More than a year and a half after vandals egged a mural of climate activist Greta Thunberg hanging in downtown Fargo, police have no leads, but the photographer is grateful.

“I need to thank the vandals, now I have four large prints installed and 150 national and international news articles written about my work because of their hate,” said Shane Balkowitsch, the wet plate photographer who took Thunberg’s photograph when she visited Standing Rock in October 2019.

Grainy video footage of the vandal and numerous leads detectives followed were not enough for Fargo police to identify any suspects, said Jessica Schindeldecker, former Fargo Police Department spokeswoman.

The incident occurred on April 3, 2020, about two months after it was brought from Bismarck to Fargo. The mural was bolted along the outside of the bar and restaurant in SoMa Alley, the unofficial name given to the street running from Broadway to 10th Street between Main Avenue and First Avenue South.

Balkowitsch originally planned to hang the 7-foot-tall mural of the Swedish climate activist in Bismarck, but an online uproar forced him to cancel that installation. Former Fargo city commissioner Mike Williams stepped in to bring the artwork east.

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At the time of the vandalism, the egging ate away the top layer of varnish, according to Balkowitsch.

Greta Thunberg mural after it was egged by vandals on April 3, 2020. .jpg
Greta Thunberg mural after it was egged by vandals on April 3, 2020.
C.S. Hagen

The mural was taken down because it could not be cleaned, but a new mural with extra protective laminate was hung on the same spot.

Balkowitsch’s photograph of Thunberg, titled “Standing With Us All,” has more than 2 million likes on social media. An original wet plate of the photograph now sits in the U.S. Library of Congress, and a close-up plate went to the Swedish History Museum. The photo has also been included as one of the top 50 photographs of 2019 by the Royal Photographic Society in the United Kingdom.

Hundreds of media outlets from Taiwan to Kentucky, including the Taipei Times, the New York Times, the Daily Beast, the Washington Post and more have featured Balkowitsch's story about the Thunberg mural since the uproar occurred in Bismarck.

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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