Berkeley arts district gets a mouth – and earful

Angela Hill THE OAKLAND TRIBUNE DEC 31, 2001

Altman street sculpture

BERKELEY---The streets have ears. And mouths.

No eyes, as ar as we know. And definitely no noses. Noses would be too bumpy and violate the city's sidewalk safety codes. So noses are out.

But Addison Street in Berkeley's growing downtown arts district not has what it needs to listen and communicate: several cast-concrete panels embedded in the sidewalk, with carefully fashioned lips and ears by Berkeley sculptor Lynne-Rachel Altman, framed by bricks that say "make Art" in 16 languages.

"The mouths and ears are smooth enough to met all the safety requirements." Altman said last week as she and contractor Nandi Devam slid the heavy panels into a bead of mortar. "We met with all the city engineers. You can't have more than a quarter inch change in elevation. So this seems to work fine. One girl in a wheelchair came by and rolled over the mouths and loved it. She said it was a fun ride."

people on Addison StreetAltman is the first of eight Berkeley artists to install her work in the poetry and art panel project -- a walkway on both sides of Addison from Shattuck Avenue to Mivia Street with works by local artists permanently embedded in the walk, interspersed with poems form local writers.

The project was planned more than two years ago to coincide with this year's opening of new buildings for the BErkeley Repertory Theater and the Aurora Theater Company. But because of various snags with some contracting firms, the first panels just went in last week.

This is Altman's first permanent public art project into eh United States. known for her sculptural installation work, she co-created a wall mural in israel, and has installed a number of temporary public art pieces.

Altman's panels are on Addison, right at the corner of Shattuck by the historic Kress building, which is being restored.

She says she got her inspiration for the project just by standing there.cement ears

"I do a lot of site-specific work. I am very sensitive to sites," Altman said. "So I spent a lot of time on this street, standing here, getting a feel of it. I looked at the beautiful Kress building with all the brick. I thought I'd use brick and cast cement, like the components of the street.

"I wanted to help the street communicate." she said. "I see communication as a form of lubrication, keeping art moving. SO I starting thinking, "What would a street in an arts district be saying and doing? And I decided it would be telling you to 'Make art.'"

Now, it not only tells you to "Make art" but to "Haz arte," "Fanya sanaa" and "Partticipez aux arts."

Altman says she has received lots of positive comments already from passers-by as she installed the mouth panels. ANd she knows it's not just lip service.

"The thing I like best, When people walk over the mouths, I like to think of it as having your feet kissed when you walk." she said.

Addison Street Mouths