Up until the 1980s, Sheffield was a typical Tasmanian town growing in population which went up dramatically when construction of several hydroelectric plants began nearby. However, once the construction on the giant Mersey-Forth hydro electric development was complete, the workers moved on bringing an abrupt decline on the town's population and economy. The catalyst that would bring Sheffield both fame and fortune began as a desperate bid by a small, but dedicated band of local residents determined to save their town.
Inspired by the story of Chemainus, a small Canadian town that had through mural art, rescued itself from ruin, the Kentish Association for Tourism (KAT) worked valiantly on the vision to combine the arts and tourism to revive and reinvent the town of Sheffield. The first mural in Sheffield was unveiled in December 1986. Since then over sixty murals depicting the area's rich history and beautiful natural scenery have been painted on walls scattered throughout the town and buildings along the roadside. The murals attract an estimated 220,000 people to the town annually.
In the heart of Sheffield, there are a number of studios open to the public where visitors can watch the artists as they do their work. There are artists of every discipline, including photography, fine art, glass, woodcraft, pottery, ceramics and specialised crafts.
Sheffield now holds the International Mural Fest art competition annually where a poem is selected which the artists use as their inspiration. After each competition the 9 finalist murals remain on display at Mural Park for approximately 12 months until the next competition.