Arts Council proposes public piano

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

It’s not every day someone asks town council for permission to set up a piano in a public outdoor space. Or an indoor one, for that matter.

But that was what happened at council’s Feb. 4 meeting. Representatives of the Regional Arts Council came before council with a proposal for a ‘street piano,’ to be placed under the canopy at Rennie Hall Plaza in the centre of downtown in summer, and perhaps in the MRC lobby in the colder months.

Megan McNeil, the RAC president, explained that such installations are not only being done elsewhere in Canada, they are becoming quite common. She said since somebody came up with the idea in Toronto, it has become a sort of a movement, with pianos in public spaces in hundreds of locations across the country.

The idea, McNeil said, is to “have it in the streets, so any person can stop and play.”

This has apparently been happening, in cities all over the world, for the past few years. Videos of impromptu performances are all over the Internet. Some of the installations are part of a big art project called ‘Play Me, I’m Yours,’ started in Sheffield England in 2008 by artist Luke Jerram. Since then over 2,000 pianos have been set up in cities around the world.

On each of the pianos it says, ‘Play Me, I’m Yours.’

What the Arts Council is proposing is more modest than that, and of course it comes with the risk of vandalism. What about that? asked councillor Darin Busk.

The risk is acknowledged, but as far as the Arts Council is concerned, it’s not a reason not to give it a try.

“It was donated,” McNeil said. “It was going to the dump.”

The plan is to paint the piano, get it tuned, and – with permission – set it up downtown hopefully by the May long weekend. It would be sooner than that, but McNeil said it’s stored in a cold garage and the painting won’t be done until it warms up.

Speaking of which, she said they might approach a school art program to see if they want to get involved in the piano decoration project.

As to the origin of the piano, McNeil said a young couple bought a house in Assineau that had an upright piano and didn’t want it.

“They posted on Facebook,” she said, “offering it free to anyone who would come and take it.” If no one did, they’d been hauling it to the landfill.

A Widewater resident saw that and not wanting to see a good piano wasted, came up with the street piano idea and got in touch with the Arts Council.

Council didn’t make any decision on the request, instead referring the matter to administration to “work with the arts council” to “explore the possibilities.”

Councillor Brice Ferguson made a point of expressing support.

“I like the idea,” he said. “I don’t have any issues with it.”

One thing the Arts Council would very much like is for somebody with piano-tuning expertise to pitch in (no pun intended) with occasional tuning of the instrument on a volunteer basis.

Street piano in Calgary, courtesy of CBC.

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2 thoughts on “Arts Council proposes public piano

  1. I like the idea it can be thought of as a “Bait Piano.” You know, like the Bait Cars cops plant to catch car bandits. So if no vandals are caught, does that make it a failure?

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