Sixty Street Pianos Will Soon Line the Streets

September 22, 2016
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By Beth Treffeisen

Soon to be scattered around Boston, 60 colorful, quirky and uniquely designed pianos will be placed throughout the city enticing passersby with the message “Play Me, I’m Yours,” inscribed on them.

“It is so effective because it animates the people and activates the space,” said Gary Dunning the executive director of Celebrity Series Boston.

As part of the Play Me, I’m Yours, Luke Jerram UK artist’s popular public art installment will make a return visit to Boston this fall from September 23 to October 10, 2016, courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston.

Street Pianos Boston will feature sixty pianos, decorated by local artists and will be placed in outdoor space in every Boston neighborhood and select Cambridge locations for the public to play and enjoy.

Play Me, I’m Yours has been touring internationally since 2008 where more than 1,500 pianos have now been installed in 50 cities across the globe from New York to London.

The pianos first visited Boston in 2013, when more than 500,000 people across the city engaged with the Street Pianos Boston, sharing music and song in a citywide festival.

It also took place during the 75th Anniversary of Celebrity Series of Boston and Dunning said was part of a gesture to serve as a thank you to city. Ever since, he said that they have gotten requests to have the pianos return.

“Art is for everybody,” said Dunnings. “Maybe not everyone can be a world class artist but everyone can have art in their life.”

Dunning added that the pianos are not programmed for specific events but are meant for the public to use, whether it be a individual stopping by to see if they can remember playing the chopsticks or a group of people getting the band together to play outside.

To make each piano exceptional, artists of all backgrounds, artistic abilities and experience in different mediums were encouraged to apply through a public application process. There are 19 returning artists who also participated in the Street Pianos Boston 2013, and 41 are new to the project.

The artists represent neighborhoods from across the city as well as greater Boston. Backgrounds range from painting and illustration, sculpture, quilting, woodblock printing, dance and music all of which they brought to their designs in the pianos.

The pianos were created in the Innovation and Design Building in Boston and have been tuned up before installation.

Ben Kauffman who designed the piano that will sit in front of the Berklee College of Music bookstore enjoyed working in the large building that housed the pianos.

“I’ve been out of college 20 plus years and it’s been a lot time since I was in an environment like that,” said Kauffman. “It was interesting working side by side with people and their funky ideas.”

He describes his artwork as industrial collage, where he takes clothing, old tools, rusted pieces of metal and works them into worn wood.

During the day, Kauffman works for a software company as a technical editor and was excited to get a second chance after his 2013 piano to design another one for this provject and have it placed in music hub within the city.

“You can’t beat the Berklee location for its musicianship in Boston,” said Kauffman. “I am very excited it will be there and I can imagine there will be a lot of good performances.”

“After the pianos are painted,” Kauffman continued, “the performance part is part of the whole project.”

For Michael Crockett, painter and illustrator, whose piano will be on display at the Boston Architect College, is excited to have another chance to design a piano that reflects his continuous work to collaborate with people from around the city.

By working with the City of Boston and different people from around his neighborhood he said he wanted to show the different faces of Boston.

“It is loaded with quirky, oddity and some very serious faces,” said Crockett. His faces that vary in mood are painted with bright colors to attract passersby to it.

In 2013, Crockett along with his partner Frank Casazza, got the honor of designing the baby grand piano that was on display at Government Center, which featured a more graffiti inspired look.

“It’s really fun how they bring public art to the streets of Boston,” said Crockett.

In front of the Boston Center for the Arts, a piano that resembles an old timey popcorn box by Jason Chase will steal the spotlight.

Chase who is an oil painter by trade has one other public art piece in Dewey Square on a switch box in Somerville that is a sister piece to the piano design.

“Public art is always a little different form of beast,” said Chase where you have to follow rules and make them durable. “Most of [the art] are out in the rain and those conditions.”

He added that he is very excited about his location and hopes to pop in to see people playing it while it is on display.

“I am proud Boston artist and I am proud to be part of something like this,” said Chase.

The piano that will be on display at the Boylston Plaza at the Prudential Center, that is still currently under construction, will be featuring a piano with a design inspired by the screen saver called electric chic.

Behind the design, Lois Blood Bennett, an electric engineer by day that focuses her spare time towards creating fiber art from computer algorithms is excited to show off her bright blue interweaving design to the public.

“I’m sharing what I see,” said Bennett. “That’s what makes it exciting.”

Bennett who works with the computer and constructs equations to create the images said there is an infinite generations that just blow her away.

“It’s like unfolding the magic,” said Bennett.

Bennett who doesn’t play piano but does sing in two choirs plans to come out with some friends to perform by her piece.

In Copley Square, Lou Lim’s, an expression therapists and a mental health councilor’s piano will be on display featuring hand prints of real people he knows who has impacted his life in a meaningful way.

People behind the handprints he said have helped shaped him into the person who he is today.

Lim said, “I believe the arts can help people grow as individuals and provide meaning in their lives.”

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