Dec. 4—A mural in the pedestrian tunnel behind the MyPlace hotel in Kalispell was recently vandalized, according to Kip Smith with Rails-to-Trails of Northwest Montana.
Substantial graffiti — including anti-Semitic and homophobic messages — was discovered in the tunnel on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 1.
Smith and others who were involved in installing the mural believe the vandalism was an intentional, targeted attack, perhaps connected with other incidences of anti-Semitic vandalism that have cropped up throughout Kalispell, including in Woodland Park and on the former CHS grain silos.
"After we got over the emotional shock, we said, this is not some random graffiti. This is vandalism," said Smith.
"Tagging unfortunately does occur on murals in public spaces," said Alisha Shilling with KALICO Art Center, one of the partners on the mural project. She differentiated tagging — graffiti that takes the form of names or words quickly added to walls and public spaces — from the scale of vandalism found on the mural.
"But this was not tagging. This was vandalism and a hate-filled attack against the community," Shilling said. "This had nothing to do with the mural and everything to do with the moment of history we are living in..."
The mural, titled Fern Forms, was installed over the summer as part of a community-wide effort to beautify the walking and biking trail. It was designed by local artist Griffin Foster. Roughly 120 community volunteers came together to paint the mural.
Now, approximately two-thirds of the artwork has been covered with profanity. Some of the messages specifically target Glacier High School and people who are Jewish or homosexual.
Smith suspected the vandalism took place in the last week or 10 days, but there is no video footage or other evidence about the incident. Due to the size of the graffiti, Smith said it's likely multiple people were involved.
"It's huge," Smith said. "It's overwhelming."
Cleaning started on Friday, and Smith said he hopes to have everything cleaned up by the end of the weekend. He predicted it will take "hours and hours of work and potentially quite a bit of cost" to return the mural back to its original appearance.
Smith and his partners on the mural project are looking to the community to bring to light any information about the possible perpetrators of the graffiti.
"I'm hopeful somebody will come forward," Smith said.
Information can be reported anonymously to Flathead Crimestoppers at 406-752-8477. Other information can be reported to the Kalispell Police Department at 758-7781.
Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 406-758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.