Campus community fundraises to replace Sproul Plaza piano

Alexandra Nobida/Staff

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UC Berkeley students will replace the broken piano on Sproul Plaza at the start of the spring semester with the help of community donations.

An unknown perpetrator vandalized the piano over Thanksgiving break, prompting campus juniors Josh Yurtsever and Daniel Geng to set up a GoFundMe on Dec. 5 with a goal of raising $500 to replace the piano. In one day, the fundraiser drew in $430 from 44 people.

Yurtsever also advertised the fundraiser in a post in the “Overheard at UC Berkeley” Facebook group. He said several people commented on the post, offering to provide a piano instead of cash donations. Yurtsever and Geng said they are considering accepting one of the donated pianos and would then use the money raised on the GoFundMe to cover transportation costs.

According to Geng, the number of small donors reveals just how much people in the community care about the piano. He added that fundraising for a replacement is important because the piano provides a much-needed break for students walking down Sproul Plaza.

“People are speed-walking past all this beauty, just going to their next class,” Geng said. “I thought something novel, interesting, something new would be really cool to get people to think about something other than class, tests, midterms or research.”

Geng and Yurtsever also said they may plan an event on Sproul Plaza for community members to paint the new piano as had been done with the current one. Both students were involved in the last replacement and said they received the now-broken piano from local artists, who painted it themselves before placing it on Sproul Plaza.

The current piano replaced Geng’s first attempt at his “social experiment.” The first piano was stolen after 48 hours earlier this year.

Geng and Yurtsever said they will wait to place the new piano on Sproul Plaza until the start of the spring semester, in order to keep it indoors over winter break — a time when few people remain on campus and renewed vandalism could go unchecked. Other concerns over the piano’s safety persist, however.

Campus sophomore and pianist Kevin Shen was one of many students to express concerns over the protection of the next replacement piano on the post in the “Overhead at UC Berkeley” group. He said in an email that he fears vandalism and damaging weather conditions will consistently pose a danger to the instrument.

“There’s nothing being done to stop what happened a few weeks ago from happening again,” Shen said in an email. “The initiators have planned to reinstall a new piano in the spring following the usual wetter period of the year, but this will push the problem back to the following winter.”

Yurtsever’s post on “Overheard at UC Berkeley” generated nearly 700 social reactions and 38 comments, as of press time. In the comments to his post, others recommended installing a protective cover over the keys and nearby security cameras to safeguard the piano.

While Yurtsever said these are “of course” good ideas, he said the nature of a public piano will always present problems.

“If we’re putting a new piano out, there’s basically no way to protect it from the weather and vandalism,” Yurtsever said. “There’s a lot of potential things we could try and experiment with, but having it outside is the magic of it.”

Contact Rachel Barber at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.