As a crime prevention specialist I am very keen on street pianos because they are just the sort of positive influence that many streets need. When people come together in an upbeat and open way they realize that they have much in common.
We also learn that the best streets in our cities are the ones where people care about what goes on there – where people take a shared ownership and responsibility. Street pianos help create that vibe.
So here are 10 quick tips from my experience with these project.
- Network like crazy – contact community groups, non-profit agencies, local musicians, and businesses with a strong community spirit. Start talking up the street piano idea and creatively combining the energies of each group. Keep an ear open for key resources (piano, funding, publicity tools, or just as important, a group of energetic volunteers) that might be available from each source.
- Locate a piano. Somewhere in your community is one under-used piano that needs a new home. Talk to local music stores, piano tuners/movers and musicians. You will get many leads and one of those will produce a piano. At the same time, you will have spread the word about the project.
- Repair/restore your piano. Quite likely, a donated / older will require some TLC. Here’s where your friendly piano mover and piano tuner and furniture repair craftsperson can lend a hand.
- Choose a location – preferably an open space where people would like to gather. It may be a space in need of some ‘revitalization’ and the piano can be a positive force that starts to tip the balance.
- Plan for evening and bad weather storage. Pianos need some weather protection. In Canada’s cold climate (where we have worked on a number of projects), outdoor pianos are a summer-only proposition, so you need to plan for relocating it (into storage or into an open indoor space) in the winter. Pianos can be rolled under protective eaves at night (see #8 below). Or get creative. We combined a City-donated bus shelter with a rolling overhead garage door (donate by a door company) for a great all-weather enclosure for one piano.
Approach local artists to repaint the piano. This is no longer a piece of living room furniture. Let some street artists or art students help to transform the instrument visually. Make it something that people want to talk about – and photograph.
- Recruit local musicians to come down and play– especially when the piano is first introduced. And encourage them to drop in regularly to tinkle the ivories.
- Recruit stewards – ideally business owners in close proximity to the piano – to take some ownership in the project, such covering it at the end of the day. The sense of shared community ownership that starts with the piano has a transformative effect, extending to the whole street. Encourage stewards and a shared pride of ownership. Plan for small rewards (a few flowers from the local shop, donated?) that you can send to stewards to let them know they are valued.
- Plan a launch event – start a month prior to your piano’s launch by contacting local media and your community partners.
- Launch and enjoy. Music draws people. The positive energy that flows from seeing people enjoy themselves in public is invigorating and contagious.
You will have fun, I guarantee.