Published February 12, 2009
Dogs do the darndest things.They poop, they hump and they sniff in all the wrong places.
And now you can see them do all of the above every time you cross the pedestrian bridge over Interstate 80 in Berkeley, Calif., thanks to the largesse of the taxpayers.
Artist Scott Donahue of Emeryville, Calif., was paid $196,000 by Berkeley's public arts program to create two large statues, which feature small, artistic medallions that show dogs doing what dogs do best.
"Various things," Donahue said. "Biting each other, chasing each other…. One dog is defecating, two dogs are fornicating."
But with the country in a deep recession and California on the verge of bankruptcy, some taxpayers are questioning the money Donahue got for his work. His total budget was $196,000 — 1.5 percent of the total budget for building the pedestrian bridge. And all of it came from taxpayers.
"During this time of economic crisis and unemployment in California, the amount of money needed for that statue was excessive," says Oona Eddleman of Los Angeles, whose husband Harry has been looking for work since being laid off from his job a few months back. Though Oona is home on maternity leave, she said she will have no choice but go back to work full-time to support her family.
Donahue was chosen by the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission — a public agency under the Office of Economic Development — to create sculptures for each end of the pedestrian bridge. His original design included 28-foot statues honoring the history and daily life of the city of Berkeley. What it didn't show were the tiny reliefs of dogs in not-so-flattering poses at the bottom of one of the statues.
"I probably had just indications of wildlife in the original application," Donahue said. "I probably didn't have the actual poses for all the reliefs."
While some citizens are growling at this apparent oversight, Berkeley civic arts coordinator Mary Ann Marker doesn't seem fazed.
"You know they're only 5 inches – the piece is 28 feet," she says. "They're just part of the bottom of the base as extra decoration. They are by no means the main thrust of the piece."
As for the depictions of the dogs?
"I think they're just, you know, natural science. They're just showing what dogs really do," said Archana Horsting, executive director of the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley.
Horsting said Donahue should be applauded for his work because what he accomplished should have cost a lot more. Not only are the two statues 28 feet high, but they were built twice as strong because they are on a bridge.
Donahue, meanwhile, stands by his work and wonders what all the fuss is about.
"The main impression that people have is that this is celebrating life's vitality," he said. "The sculpture is on the one hand serious — you've got these big sculptures — and on the other hand it's playful. It's both serious and playful simultaneously."