Pianos are not typically found along Albany’s streets, but 13 fully functional pianos have popped up recently throughout the Central Business District of Albany, and they’re not just for decoration but for anyone to sit down and play.
• What: ‘Play Me I’m Yours’
• When: June 13-July 27
• Where: Various locations in downtown Albany
• How much: Free
• Info: pianosalbanyny. com and downtownalbany.org
The pianos are part of the city’s new Sculpture in the Streets exhibit organized by the Albany BID called “Play Me I’m Yours.”
“Ten pianos, decorated by local artists and community groups, will be located in parks, squares and other public spaces in Downtown Albany for anyone to play and enjoy,” said Georgette Steffens, executive director of the Downtown Albany BID.
Organizers want visitors to sit down at these pianos, which are decorated to resemble everything from Swiss cheese to a city skyline, and let their fingers do the talking.
“Our hope is to get the community engaged,” Steffens said.
The project is designed to encourage sing-a-longs and creativity along the streets.
“Each piano has a sticker with a website address. People are encouraged to upload videos and photos,” Steffens said.
The website is intended for people to post and share videos, photos and stories about their experiences with the pianos.
Street pianos are the creation of British artist Luke Jerram, whose “Play Me, I’m Yours” exhibit has been touring the world since 2008. The first exhibit featured 15 pianos in Birmingham, U.K. Since then, dozens of cities have displayed pianos in public places worldwide.
“The idea for ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ came from visiting my local launderette,” Jerram said. “I saw the same people there each weekend, and yet no one talked to one another. I suddenly realized that within a city, there must be hundreds of these invisible communities, regularly spending time with one another in silence. Placing a piano into the space was my solution to this problem, acting as a catalyst for conversation and changing the dynamics of a space.”
Jerram said the pianos are designed to help people engage, activate and claim ownership of their urban landscape and likens it to a musical equivalent of Facebook. The pianos he said, together with the website, provide an interconnected resource for the public to express themselves.
Though Steffens expects to hear a lot of “Chopsticks,” the pianos are known to have brought hidden musicians out of the woodwork.
Steffens said it’s the interactive part of the exhibit that they are most excited about.
“We have done Sculpture in the Streets many years, and the ones most successful are the ones that the community can engage in. People really want the ability to interact with the art,” she said.
Two years ago, the city placed oversized Dutch clog sculptures painted by local artists throughout the streets.
“We actually had one clog that had its own Facebook page,” Steffens said. “People would hula hoop, breakdance and skateboard with it. It had a life of its own. That’s our hope here.”
The exhibit will run from Friday, June 13, through Sunday, July 27, with a Sculpture in the Streets Garden Party slated to formally welcome the exhibit on Friday, June 13, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Federal Plaza across the street from the Palace Theatre.
Earlier in the year, the Albany BID sent out a request for applications from artists as well as organizations interested in creating original artwork on piano exteriors. The 14 finalists had three weeks to create their masterpieces. During this time, visitors were able to walk by the Albany BID building and see the pianos in progress.
“One piano that is going to be in our lobby advertising the exhibit, one that doesn’t actually play, the artist painted it yellow like a big block of Swiss cheese. The stool is a Ritz cracker. It’s really cool,” Steffens said.
Steffens said the pianos represent a good range of ideas.
“One artist took black and white photos of children in Albany and created a collage that covers the piano. Someone else painted an old city streetscape in black and white, and another artist actually built the city skyline coming out of the top of the piano,” she said.
Thirteen pianos are placed in the Central Business District of Downtown Albany.
“There is one in the atrium of the TU Center, one at the foot of the pedestrian bridge from downtown to the Corning Preserve, one in front of Cap Rep, one done by the First Church of Albany in the park next to their church, and some on the sidewalks near large office buildings,” Steffens said.
The pianos will be out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and each are assigned a caretaker.
“The way the program works is most of the pianos have been assigned a ‘piano buddy.’ Each will have plastic attached to the back of the piano, and when it rains will get covered and uncovered,” Steffens said.
She adds that most of the pianos are what they call “end of life pianos,” which have been donated and tuned. The majority of the pianos were donated from a local warehouse, but some also came from local residents.
“A 14-year-old, the youngest artist, actually painted her own piano at her house … donated, painted and delivered,” Steffens said.
After the completion of the exhibit, some of the pianos will be auctioned off and others will be donated to area schools and community groups.
The Sculpture in the Streets program began in 2005 and was designed to offer free, public art in various locations throughout downtown for employees, residents and visitors.
“We are trying to create an environment where people can engage with art and one another in urban spaces throughout downtown,” Steffens said. “We thought it would be a great amenity and project for both the daytime employees as well as the residents. The quality of the artwork is phenomenal, and to be able to place pianos in these great parks that we have, really in just cool places and spaces against the backdrop of the architecture we have down here and the history we have … it’s why we wanted to do this program,” Steffens said.
The pianos will be on display throughout the streets of downtown Albany from Friday, June 13, through Sunday, July 27. The website specifically for Albany’s “Play Me I’m Yours” exhibit is pianosalbanyny.com where visitors are encouraged to share their experience and impressions of the pianos. Walking tour maps are also available on the BID’s website at downtownalbany.org. The Sculpture in the Streets Garden Party, which takes place on Friday, June 13, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. is $65 per person at the door. For more information, visit downtownalbany.org.