Multimedia Feature: California Street Tag Wall Becomes Home to Missoula Graffiti Artists

Editor’s note: Make it Missoula has partnered with the University of Montana’s Online News class, taught by Jule Banville, to create a new Citizen Journalism feature that’s all about local views and issues. We’re excited to provide these students with a platform so they can objectively explore and report about the topics they think reflect the lives and times of Missoula and its citizens.


When Missoula business owner and artist Dan Tabish posted a sign on the gigantic wall surrounding his property, he created the only space in the city free and open to graffiti artists.

At the end of the California Street pedestrian bridge, the sign reads: “The person(s) painting this wall have my permission (and blessing) to continue … I completely approve of what they are doing, as long as there are no messages of hate, racism, or profanity.”

Since Tabish, who owns the California Street business Buffalo Embossing, put up the wall, artists like Missoula natives Abe Coley and Atom Hopper have shown up with spray cans to add their tags.

It’s not what they do in studios. Graffiti and art are different, Coley argues, because graffiti, in most circumstances, is about breaking the law and committing a crime. At the free wall the art is somewhere between thoughtful composition and traditional tagging.

Here, Hopper can spend hours perfecting his pieces, but the wall’s democracy also means someone else can come along and paint over it. Over the years, taggers have built a community of like-minded street artists around this wall.

Check out the video to see an interview with the artists and see them in action.


Annela Rova and Billie Loewen are both seniors majoring in journalism at the University of Montana.