Image (Above) © Museum of Vancouver: Polka Dot Piano (Cover designed by Erich Stussi)
Budding pianists and looky-loos are re-discovering Vancouver’s public spaces thanks to a city-inspired public participation project called Keys to the Streets. Four older, upright pianos are scattered across Vancouver free of charge to anyone who wishes to sit down and hammer out a few tunes.
The plan originated in April with City Studio, collaboration between the City of Vancouver and six post secondary institutions. City Studio is comprised of like minded university students drawn to the concept of a green city. The aim was to revitalize the city’s public spaces, specifically its green spaces, and make them inviting and accessible.
The first piano proved so successful that a second one was set up in Olympic Village and yet another one in the shadow of a cross town bridge in June. The fourth sits in Stanley Park.
Vancouver’s just one of many cities that have glommed onto the worldwide trend started five years ago by UK sculptor and installation artist Luke Jerram. Jerram introduced the first pop-up piano in Birmingham, England in 2008. Today he oversees its expansion through a program called Play Me, I’m Yours. There are currently 800 Play Me pianos in 35 cities around the world including London, New York and Toronto.
Quick to realize the community benefits of having a function that draws people together, and a free one at that, numerous city councils, merchants and arts groups have jumped onto Jerram’s idea and have created their own piano plazas.
“I’m aware Luke was the pioneer,” says Gian Mendoza, City Studio project leader and UBC journalism student who brought the concept to Vancouver, “he was definitely an inspiration but we did this on our own.”
Mendoza’s pianos have done the job, bringing duffers and divas together in spontaneous activity. Now that the summer piano-playing season is coming to a close City Studio is hopeful Vancouver’s pianos will be back next year.
Meanwhile four pianos have mysteriously shown up on Saltspring Island, a small community of 12,000 souls in the Strait of Georgia 81 kilometres off the BC mainland. In this case it’s not a civic endeavour endorsed by the city fathers but a gift someone has anonymously left for others to enjoy. A fellow artist no doubt. Or maybe a music lover. No matter, other people are latching onto the piano idea, thankful for Jerram’s lead even if he’s not part of it.
All Images © John Thomson+ DZine Trip