By John Ramos

BERKELEY (KPIX) — If you’ve driven along Interstate 80 past University Avenue in Berkeley, you may have noticed sculptures on both sides of the pedestrian crossing. They’ve been there for 11 years but they may not be there much longer. The original intent for the art pieces was to welcome people to Berkeley but now it looks like they’ve worn out their welcome.

Jos Sances was at Aquatic Park Thursday morning showing his granddaughter Calliope the sculptures known as the “Berkeley Big People.” They were designed to let drivers know they were passing through the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. The sculpture on the east side of the freeway depicts the protest culture of the Cal campus and, on the west side, the recreational opportunities of the East Bay shore.

Sances sat on the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission when the pieces were commissioned. He says the 28-foot-high work by Emeryville artist Scott Donohue was selected over a field of entrants in a competitive process that lasted more than five years.

“There was a big vetting process,” Sances said. “That’s what kind of annoys me, is that that process, which was elaborate, is kind of being overthrown.”

That’s because the current arts commission just voted to have the sculptures removed. Commissioners said the poor condition of the artwork with its fading paint, cracked exterior and graffiti-marred base could cost nearly $100,000 to restore. The public seems a bit ambivalent, as well.

“They weren’t real apparent what the figures were all about,” said Berkeley resident Sara Roberts.

“Not outstanding,” was the judgment of a passerby who gave his name as Will.

Scott Donahue has said he can repair his artwork for about $15,000 but the city doesn’t seem interested. They say they might consider moving the piece to a more “contextually appropriate” spot but a report says that could cost more than a quarter-million dollars so that seems unlikely. Meanwhile, Sances says he’s disgusted by the whole affair.

“I don’t think they really have a right to give away public art that the city owns, you know?” he said. “Why they’re disowning this piece — I don’t get it.”

Either way it’s going to cost the city money but, at this point, the city seems more willing to pay money to get rid of it than to keep it. There is a 90-day public comment period before the removal process can begin. If you’d like to comment, you can e-mail the Berkeley Arts Commission at jlovvorn@cityofberkeley.info

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