When a working piano is placed on a public street with an invitation for anyone to play, a kind of magic ensues. From confident virtuosos leaning into Liszt to teenage sweethearts banging out a four-handed “Heart and Soul,” thousands have sat down at pianos in 36 cities around the world since the Play Me, I’m Yours public art project was launched in 2008. The feel-good street installation came to greater Boston this week, and 3 of the 75 pianos are based at BU—2 on the Charles River Campus and one on the Medical Campus.
Conceived by British artist Luke Jerram in the spirit of temporary urban works like the Cow Parade, which scattered colorful bovines around the city in summer 2006, the Play Me project has placed more than 900 pianos in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Sydney, Sao Paulo, London, and Hangzhou. The Boston leg of the project commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Celebrity Series of Boston, the nonprofit arts organization that has brought musicians, orchestras, chamber ensembles, and dance companies to concert halls around the city since 1938. The whimsically painted pianos (College of Fine Arts alumnae worked on the BU-based pianos) will be left outside, where passersby are asked to cover them with the tarps at each location if it starts to rain.
According to its website, which features an interactive map dotted with piano icons, the project has reached more than three million people worldwide, using old pianos that are donated and in turn given to charitable organizations when the projects end. At BU, pianos have been installed at the George Sherman Union Plaza, in front of the College of Engineering, next to Scoozi, and on the Medical Campus, in the yard between Harrison Avenue and Albany Street, according to Ty Furman, managing director of the Boston University Arts Initiative. Other pianos are outdoors at locations around Boston and Cambridge, including at the Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard University, the Prudential Center, and the Boston Arts Academy, an arts-centered public high school. The Street Pianos festival runs through October 14.
Ashley Teamer (CFA’13) painted the piano in front of the GSU, Kathleen Kennedy (CFA’13) was the artist behind the one on the Medical Campus, and Elizabeth King (CFA’11) decorated the piano on the ENG plaza.
“The College of Fine Arts is a community of artists, so to have three School of Visual Arts alums asked to paint the three BU pianos, making a musical instrument their canvas, is a very powerful expression,” says Benjamin Juárez, dean of CFA. “It also speaks to the importance of bringing music out of the concert hall and into public spaces for all to enjoy. The premise of this series is so simple and lighthearted, and we are proud to be a part of that and to encourage the love of music. I hope the BU community gives in to the spontaneous desire to express oneself musically. In doing so, they will bring all of us a lot of joy.”
Local artists and a wide range of community-based organizations have decorated the other pianos. The goal is to encourage people to simply walk up and begin playing, so there is no need to sign up or reserve a spot in advance. And musicians are urged to tape their performance and upload it to the festival’s website, Facebook page, or Twitter account using the hashtag #streetpianosboston. The Celebrity Series plans to schedule several solo or ensemble performances.
“We are thrilled as a community, both the Charles River Campus and the Medical Campus, to be a part of Street Pianos Boston,” says Furman. “BU has had a long-standing relationship with the Celebrity Series, and we are excited to see what the next 75 years brings for the series.”
Find updates about the festival here.
Link to an interactive map of locations here.