Angry protester.

Protesters - Berkeley's Big People Statues

Field review by the editors.

Berkeley, California

We've been referring to this sight for several months as the "Protest Monument," because we sped by it twice on I-80 and it looked like an angry statue mob waving empty protest placards. Yep, it's in Berkeley...

It's too dangerous to slow down on the highway, so get off at University Avenue, park on the west side of the bicycle entrance and walk up to inspect. It's actually two giant sculptures, one on each end of a pedestrian/bicycle bridge. The 30-ft. tall pieces were installed in October/November 2008, the work of Emeryville artist Scott Donahue, who won a national competition for the commission in 2003.

Berkeley's Big People.

Called "Berkeley's Big People," the fiberglass sculpture depicts, among other things, the university town's proud culture of civil demonstrations (smaller carvings around the center of the statue show faves like the recent tree sit-in.). A couple of giant figures wave tubular metal frames (Your Gripe Here). One looks pleased, the other miffed...

Up close, the figures, which merge into the elevated base of the work, are accompanied by a diverse assemblage of non-protest characters: one figure plays a violin (representing support for the Arts), and another figure is reading an empty tubular book and "thinking." On the side of the bridge closest to the marina, the figures depict East Bay leisure life: a bird watcher peering through binoculars, a jogger, a kite flier, and a boater. And there's a disc-catching dog in mid-leap.

Instead of this cavalcade of mild hobbies, we wish the sculpture had stayed focused solely on public protest... a rabid dissenting mob on one side of the bridge pitted against counter-demonstrators on the other. And instead of the frisbee pooch it should've been Bosco, the Dog Hero of the Tiananmen Square Protests (Listen to us, with our loudmouthed ideas of how to spend someone else's sculpture budget...).

The statues -- even with their heroic scale -- seem out-of-place overlooking the uncaring highway, far from the actual campus protest stomping grounds. But it's still worth checking out.

Protesters - Berkeley's Big People Statues

Address:
University Ave., Berkeley, CA
Directions:
On I-80 just south of the University Ave. exit and overpass, at the West Berkeley Gate pedestrian - bicycle bridge overpass. From south: University Ave. exit, turn right at end of ramp onto 2nd St., then right onto Addison St.; parking lot on left. From north: University Ave. exit, follow signs off freeway toward Berkeley Marina, then immediately turn left (south), then immediately turn right into dirt parking lot.
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