Oakland resident donates replacement for vandalized piano on Sproul Plaza

Allen Zeng/Staff

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UC Berkeley students replaced the vandalized upright piano on Sproul Plaza on Monday thanks to a generous donation from an Oakland resident, restoring the “magic” it brought to campus students.

In April 2018, a group of students placed an upright piano on Sproul Plaza as a “social experiment,” but it was stolen less than 48 hours later. With the help of a GoFundMe page, the students replaced the piano, only for it to be vandalized in November 2018. The unknown perpetrators smashed some of the piano keys, rendering them unusable, and removed many of the black keys.

Campus senior Eric Yu, who posted about the new replacement piano on the Facebook group “Overheard at UC Berkeley,” said he recalls seeing the vandalism and feeling “heartbroken.”

“It was kind of difficult because anyone can actually break it,” Yu said. “You have to really trust the community.”

Campus junior Joshua Yurtsever, who helped with the replacement of the original piano in April 2018, created a GoFundMe page in December 2018 to raise money for a new replacement, which, according to Yurtsever, was a cheaper solution than trying to fix the damaged instrument.

A pianist himself, Yurtsever said there was demand from campus students to replace the piano and even a note taped to the vandalized piano that read, “You destroyed a therapeutic and joyful aspect of our campus.”

“Students really missed having the piano there,” Yurtsever said. “That (note) really pushed us to say we should probably replace it.”

The piano that currently sits on Sproul Plaza was donated by Oakland resident Graham King, who said the instrument had been in his family for 32 years. King said neither he nor anybody in his house plays the piano, so he decided to donate it along with music books that are currently stored in the piano’s bench.

“I just hope people enjoy it,” King said. “I hope people can take a little time out their day and have a little fun.”

Yurtsever said he received $430 through the GoFundMe page, $250 of which went toward transporting the replacement piano from King and purchasing an additional piano to replace the new one when it wears out.

The remaining money raised through the GoFundMe page will go toward painting the piano Wednesday and possibly installing a camera near the piano to prevent future vandalism attempts, according to Yurtsever. To better protect the public instrument, Yurtsever said he will likely move the piano indoors during academic breaks and days with heavy rain.

Yu said the replacement of the piano garnered an “overwhelming” amount of support.

“I’m just completely baffled,” Yu said. “It’s just a piano, but the fact that anyone can play on it … brings the community together.”

Sabina Mahavni covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabina_mahavni.