Bay City News

Berkeley Artist Seeks to Delay Removal of Sculptures From Hwy 80 Overpass

The attorney for the artist who created a pair of controversial sculptures on a bicycle and pedestrian bridge over Interstate Highway 80 in Berkeley said on Thursday that he's in discussions with the city to delay its plans to remove them.

Artist Scott Donahue, who's also a member of the Emeryville City Council, completed the sculptures, which are called "Berkeley Big People" and are made from fiberglass, bronze and steel, in 2008. They stand over Highway 80 near Aquatic Park in West Berkeley.

One sculpture depicts Berkeley's history of protest and the other celebrates recreation at the nearby shoreline.

But on July 24 the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission voted to "deaccession" the two works, saying that they are too expensive to maintain.

Donahue's lawyer Gary Fergus sent a letter to Berkeley Economic Development Manager Jordan Klein on Monday, calling for a six-month standstill, alleging that the city breached its contract with Donahue by failing to make good faith efforts to maintain the sculptures.

Fergus, who sent copies of his letter to 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 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.'"

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