Have a yen to tickle the ivories in public? Local artists are getting your pianos ready

Marjorie Belizaire of Mattapan is excited that Mattapan Square will be included in the street piano program. "My piano will represent the colorful and culturally diverse communities of Boston.”

This fall, the Celebrity Series of Boston is bringing back the “Play Me, I’m Yours” street piano project that was such a crowd-pleaser here in 2013.

From Sept. 23 through Oct. 10, Street Pianos Boston will feature 60 reclaimed pianos, custom-decorated by local artists, including several from Dorchester and Mattapan. The finished products will be placed in public spaces in greater Boston for the public to play and enjoy.

The worldwide Street Pianos movement, which was started by Birmingham, UK, artist Luke Jerram back in 2008, has reached more than 10 million people worldwide, with some 1,500 pianos already installed in about 50 cities across the globe, each bearing the same simple invitation, “Play Me, I’m Yours.”

This time around, the Celebrity Series has invited local artists to give eight of the upcycled uprights an inviting make-over. Two are from Mattapan (Ayana Mack and Marjorie Saintil-Belizaire) and six are from Dorchester (Cedric Douglas, Howie Green, Joe Kitsch, John Provenzano, Julia Roth, and Walter Sickert).
Some of these are veteran public artists; others are first-timers. But each has a unique vision of how to attract ivory-ticklers who, in turn, will attract a crowd.

Dot’s Howie Green has created many public art pieces: three cows for Cow Parade Boston, nine public utility boxes for the mayor of Boston’s Paint Box program, and a series of murals with the Boston Red Sox Foundation. He calls his style “pop art deco.”

Joe Kitsch, another public art vet, explains: “I was tossing a few ideas around in my head from pirate ship to the abstract notion of hating piano lessons as a kid, but one idea stuck in my heart... bacon! And who doesn’t like bacon? Well, vegetarians obviously. However, no matter who sits at the piano I’m cooking up, that person can say their playing sizzles!”

Marjorie Belizaire, on the other hand, is excited that for the first time Mattapan Square will be included in this program. “This is also my first public art project. My piano will represent the colorful and culturally diverse communities of Boston.”

Ayana Mack, the other Mattapan artist, is embellishing her piano with Afros and African headwraps. She too thinks the inclusion of Mattapan is a “great start. It shines light on the talent we have in this community.”

Julia Roth, co-founder of the Uptruck in Uphams Corner, says she is transforming her piano “into a playful representation of a woman I call ‘Muse.’ She is made of music and is a reflection of the music within each of us.”

Roth adds that she loves the communal creative process, “All the artists are working in one room. It’s so interesting to see all the different designs being created together. Each piano is so beautiful and different in its own way.”

Dot’s jack-of-all-arts Walter Sickert reports: “I’m transforming my piano into a community band! Not only will you be able to play a sparkly yellow and silver piano with the Boston skyline painted on it, but incorporated into the piano will be a host of other instruments. Bring friends and have a one-night band performance at the piano!”

John Provenzano knows that when the pianos are deployed, the press will likely focus on how the impromptu pianists will attract crowds, but he notes that the instruments had a long history prior to their extreme make-overs and that he and the other artists are just adding another layer.

“We want the piano to be seen and attract attention once it’s out there,” he says. “Students from Boston Renaissance are helping with the painting and also making a time-lapse video of the process. The next layer will be working out large areas of bold color and contrast to draw as much attention as possible. Before we can have ‘Play Me, I’m Yours,’ we need some, ‘Look At Me, I’m Yours.’’’

There’s no telling where the 2016 pianos will be placed, but probably not on the artist’s home turf.

Check out streetpianosboston.com after Sept. 6 for details on which pianos end up where.

A bonus: Among the 2013 video highlights on the site is one of Street Piano founder Luke Jerram playing the “Josephine Baker” piano in the Strand lobby!


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