Emeryville City Councilmember Scott Donahue is taking legal steps against the City of Berkeley to delay the planned removal of his “Berkeley Big People” sculptures. The pair of sculptures are installed on the pedestrian bridge that crosses I-80 near University Avenue.
The Berkeley Civic Arts Commission voted 7-1 to “deaccession” the two works back on July 24 citing damage and $96,000 price tag of repairing them.
Donahue’s lawyer Gary Fergus sent a letter to Berkeley Economic Development Manager Jordan Klein on Monday, calling for a six-month standstill. The letter alleges that the city breached its contract with Donahue by failing to make good faith efforts to maintain the sculptures.
The pair of sculptures, created from fiberglass, bronze & steel, were installed on the bridge in 2008. One sculpture depicts Berkeley’s history of protest and the other celebrates recreation at the nearby shoreline. They are prominently visible to vehicles of the often bottlenecked freeway.
Donahue was paid $196,000 by Berkeley’s public arts program to create two large statues. The pieces garnered criticism almost immediately with this Fox News story calling the cost ‘excessive’ and SF Gate calling it a ‘mockery’.
Berkeleyside first reported on the planned removal back in August and received a polarized public reaction to the pieces. A poll taken by nearly 5,000 readers had nearly equal number of voters saying the pieces should ‘stay’ or ‘go.’
Right now, 1,000 Berkeleyside readers have responded to our poll, published around 5pm today, asking whether the controversial sculptures on the pedestrian bridge over I-80 should stay or go. What’s your view? https://t.co/wNiJ6qzMsW pic.twitter.com/lGaGUHj5g9
— Berkeleyside (@berkeleyside) August 15, 2019
Fergus, who also sent copies of his letter to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin and other top city officials, said in a brief phone interview on Thursday that he’s now in discussions with lawyers for the city of Berkeley about resolving the matter out of court.
A spokesman for the city of Berkeley didn’t respond to a request for a comment from Bay City News on the matter.
In his letter to Klein, Fergus wrote, “The threatened destruction of ‘Berkeley Big People’ under false pretenses and after an arbitrary and capricious application of the brand new Artwork Deaccession Policy will result in irreparable harm to my client’s (Donahue’s) reputation.”
Fergus said, “Had my client understood at the outset that the current administration of the city of Berkeley just wants ‘Berkeley Big People’ gone no matter what he would have searched for other patrons who value and appreciate his work to find a new home for the artwork.”
He said a six-month standstill would allow Donahue to do just that. Fergus said Donahue has offered to repair the sculptures for free and alleged that the city “never made any good faith efforts to maintain ‘Berkeley Big People.’ ”
Members of The City of Emeryville leadership has suggested informally that the sculptures could be donated to the city and installed somewhere in our city.