Recent Mural Repairs and Community Response

“RBG Tribute” located on Commerce between S. 9th and S. 11th in Tacoma, WA. Photo courtesy of the artist (anonymous by request).

This is not a story about people who deface murals. This is a story about Tacoma’s artists and the community that rallies behind them. This is a story about perseverance and resilience.

Since late last year, five Spaceworks-sponsored murals have been defaced by a white supremacist hate group and/or other anonymous individuals. The “RBG Tribute” mural, part of our Rapid Mural program, has been vandalized five times now, with black paint completely obscuring the portrait. We choose not to name the group involved nor provide them additional attention. Instead, we choose to celebrate the artists and encourage community members to reaffirm their commitment to public art.

When Saiyare Refaei, Gerardo Peña, Tiffanny Hammonds, and David Long (and other artists who wish to remain anonymous) installed their murals downtown, we were inspired by their artistic abilities and calls for social justice: protecting the land and water, commemorating migration, preserving and celebrating Black lives, offering dignity and voice to the detained. Now, with their messages covered by hate, these Tacoma’s artists inspire us with their strength and grace.

“RBG Tribute” mural on October 27, November 14, November 21, January 4, January 7, and January 7. Second photo is blurred to obscure hate messages.

This defacement does not belong in Tacoma and we unequivocally denounce such acts. So far, our Spaceworks response has been to report the vandalism, support the artists, and repair the murals. We never expected to have to draft an “major vandalism protocol”, but that is our commitment to the artists and our community. We’ll find the resources and the murals will persist.

The Tacoma Police Department have classified these incidents as hate crimes and investigations are on-going. The conclusion to this story is not yet written, but you can help bring this chapter to a close.

  • Report any hate-themed vandalism to the Tacoma Police Department’s non-emergency number: (253) 798-4721. You may think it’s an isolated incident, but having an official police report helps establish patterns, timelines, and geographic scope.
  • If you see mural vandalism and defacement occurring in real-time, call 911 and do not confront the individuals.
  • Support and amplify the affected artists: Saiyare Refaei, Gerardo Peña, David Long, and Tiffanny Hammonds. Follow them on social media, share their posts, buy their art. (To support the anonymous artists involved, connect with Spaceworks and we can facilitate an arrangement.)

Justice Ginsberg, at a naturalization ceremony in 2018, offered these words to new citizens hailing from 26 separate countries: We are a nation made strong by people like you. Similarly, I believe that Tacoma is stronger because of our artists and the individuals who support them. Already, we’re grateful for the support from the Downtown Tacoma Partnership, Tacoma Police Department, Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, and the City of Tacoma’s Office of Arts and Cultural Vitality. Our strength will keep these murals on display. Our collective response will define the Tacoma we know and love.

-Michael Liang, Spaceworks Director
MichaelL@tacomachamber.org

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