Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror

Sound Transit scraps elephant sculpture idea from Federal Way Link Extension project

Pressure from city, community resulted in CEO’s decision to send artist back to ‘square one’

After pressure from the community and unanimous disapproval from the Federal Way City Council, Sound Transit has decided to scrap the proposed elephant sculpture idea from the Federal Way Link Extension plans.

Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Peter Rogoff wrote a letter to Mayor Jim Ferrell on Nov. 6 announcing the decision of developing a new art concept idea. Ferrell sent a letter to Rogoff the previous day stating the city does not feel the elephant sculpture concept reflects Federal Way in a positive light.

“As I stated in our phone conversation yesterday evening, Sound Transit has no interest in installing a work of art that the community does not believe is appropriate to their city or representative of its potential,” Rogoff wrote in the Nov. 6 response letter. During the phone call, Rogoff asked Ferrell what he would like to do and Ferrell suggested restarting the artwork design process.

In agreement with Sound Transit Board Chair Kent Keel, Rogoff said artist Donald Lipski will go back to “square one” of the art process and engage with the community in developing a new concept “that inspires joy and spurs conversation as all public art should,” he said.

The proposed — and now scrapped — sculpture concept featured a tree as a base, drawing inspiration from Federal Way’s logging town heritage. A spritely elephant is balanced on top of the tree on two front legs with a native great blue heron bird sitting atop the elephant’s trunk, looking at one another.

The sculpture would have been three-and-a-half stories tall (approximately 30 feet), about the height of passengers on the future light rail platform.

Sound Transit presented the selected artists and artwork concepts to the Federal Way Arts Commission on Oct. 1, but the commission did not have enough members to form a quorum. The board was never asked to, and never did, vote to approve the artwork concepts, said Vice Chair Vickie Chynoweth.

Somewhere in the last two weeks, the miscommunication began that the Arts Commission was responsible for the elephant artwork’s approval, but “we didn’t vote on it … the Arts Commission really didn’t get a choice.”

“We’ve never been able to say ‘this is what we want,’” Chynoweth said.

Neither the mayor nor Sound Transit have reached out to the Arts Commission regarding the concept’s backlash or the conversations with Sound Transit about getting rid of the idea, two Arts Commission sources said.

Mayor Ferrell said he is gratified and pleased with the consideration and quick resolution of Sound Transit and the board of directors.

“[Art] is a very subjective venue and most people in our position want to be very respectful and deferential to the creativity of an artist, but at some point, you just need to say what you really think,” he said. “If we don’t speak up now, that [artwork] will be sitting out there for a long time.”

The first concept missed the mark, Ferrell said.

“It was just somewhat ridiculous,” he said. “You don’t want a 30-foot ridiculous piece of artwork forever having an imprint and impression on our community.”

However, Ferrell said he is hopeful the new concept will more accurately depict all that Federal Way is and could be.

New York-native artist Lipski “has indicated that he looks forward to community input as he develops a new concept for artwork for the Federal Way Transit Center Station plaza,” Rogoff said.


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An artist’s conception of the proposed sculpture to be placed in the pedestrian plaza of the incoming Federal Way Link Extension.

An artist’s conception of the proposed sculpture to be placed in the pedestrian plaza of the incoming Federal Way Link Extension.

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