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Turning The Public Into Performers With 'Street Pianos'

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Turning The Public Into Performers With 'Street Pianos'

Turning The Public Into Performers With 'Street Pianos'

Turning The Public Into Performers With 'Street Pianos'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/128029071/128061729" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Nina Pike of Virginia improvises a piece at a street piano in New York's Times Square. Margot Adler hide caption

toggle caption Margot Adler

Nina Pike of Virginia improvises a piece at a street piano in New York's Times Square.

Margot Adler

Summer brings out fun, sun and public art projects, but here's a project that's truly participatory. For the next two weeks, an art installation called "Play Me I'm Yours" features 60 pianos in the streets of New York. An assortment of upright pianos, painted by artists in odd colors, sit in parks, on sidewalks and on street corners for anyone to play.

Sometimes, the pianos are shyly tinkered with, but then there are people who completely lose themselves. Nina Pike, a 20-year-old visitor from Virginia, recently sat down in the middle of Times Square and improvised a piece.

"To play the song that I played, you have to put up a picture and make the music flow to what the picture made up," Pike says.

The Street Pianos Project was conceived by British artist Luke Jerram, who says he had the idea while visiting a Laundromat in Bristol and saw people consistently keeping to themselves.

"I thought, well, maybe putting a piano into a space like that would shake things up and would act as a catalyst for conversation," Jerram says. "So far, it seems to be working."

Jerram says he is a visual artist. He doesn't read music, although he can play some simple blues.

"It turns ordinary people like me into street performers, and that's magical," he says.

Jerram has placed pianos in nine cities, including London, Sydney and Barcelona. New York is the first U.S. location and the largest installation he's done. He's been moving from piano to piano, watching what happens. The installation attracts a range of talent from entire bands to older blues players and young performers like high-school student Kari Wei.

"I have always had the urge, whenever I see a piano, to play it, so the fact that they have them all over the city is just really convenient," Wei says. "I am kind of determined to find all 60."

At the end of the two weeks, the pianos will be donated to schools and hospitals by the nonprofit group Sing for Hope, in an effort to keep the playing and community-building alive.

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