Local artists have created murals for Sound Transit’s Federal Way Transit Center that depart from the norm by featuring human faces.

But even before all 42 of the temporary artworks were cinched to the chain-link construction fences, someone slashed half of them Aug. 20, and a few more Monday night, in what transit officials consider acts of racism.

The colorful murals celebrate Pacific Islander, Black, and Asian communities in South King County. The transit center is being rebuilt for light-rail service in 2024.

This week, Sound Transit is mending the canvas murals and reprinting the vinyl murals. Some will receive a few brush strokes of touch-up paint.

Barbara Luecke, Sound Transit art manager, vowed to return as often as necessary to preserve the murals, if the destruction continues.

“This shouldn’t be an act that happens, but it’s a sign of the current times,” Luecke said. “Nobody’s face should be slashed up. We’re not going to let it stand.”


Artist Toka Valu, a 37-year-old SeaTac resident, said the crime deflated his youthful attitude as a “kid from the islands,” but he’s determined to keep creating.

Two of his murals display an islander’s face inscribed in the moon and next to Southern Hemisphere constellations, a woman’s hair that morphs into a pool of tropical fish and the Chamorro phrase for “Water is Life.” These images link notions of modern transit with ocean travel, he said, when the ancestors navigated without a compass.

“It feels very supportive, very affirming, that Sound Transit is standing behind its artists like this,” Valu said Tuesday.

Typically, the transit agency’s construction-fence artworks are abstract pieces, nature scenes or historical images, such as those along the former red-plywood wall at Capitol Hill Station.

But with racial justice on everyone’s mind, transit art nationally is moving toward human faces, especially to honor Black people, Luecke said.

Though the vandals didn’t write slurs or threats, that they sliced facial images makes officials suspect racial motivation.


In addition to Valu, the Federal Way murals were created by Jasmine Iona Brown, Lauren Iida, Tiffany Hammonds, Sabah Al-Dhaher and barry johnson.

“This is not the first time my work, that often centers on Black subjects, has been slashed,” Brown said in a transit-agency statement. “Harsh realities like this are disappointing, but it only strengthens my resolve to continue creating this work. My art is my protest against injustice and inequality.”

Construction-fence murals, which can last three years or longer, are a common feature at transit job sites throughout the region.

The award-winning STart program commissions temporary and permanent works using 1% of construction budgets, or $54 million from 1998-2023.

The Federal Way project is being combined with murals at the planned Kent-Des Moines Station that will be installed this fall. The agency is spending a total $70,000 to $100,000 for work for the two stations by 10 artists, plus outreach and materials, spokesman Scott Thompson said.

About 43% of Federal Way’s 100,000 residents are people of color and 111 languages are spoken there.

“It’s a unique time in our history, and we need to find ways to come together,” Mayor Jim Ferrell said. “The murals are awesome, and they belong to the people of this community. ”

He said city and transit police are working together to solve the crime.