Erika D. Smith: Indy's piano project strikes a chord for art appreciation
Indy's piano project strikes a chord for art appreciation
By Erika D. Smith
The Indianapolis Star
Link to article on The Indianapolis Star website here
I’ve never been one to put much stock in the age-old arts versus sports debate. You know, the one where Hoosiers who wear Colts and Pacers jerseys year-round argue that because Indianapolis is obviously a sports town, we shouldn’t invest much in the arts.
I don’t buy it. Great cities have both — and Indianapolis is a great city.
Even so, there are days when I worry that the arts will never be fully appreciated here. That it will never truly be part of the culture.
Sunday was not one of those days.
I spent the afternoon watching person after person, of every age, race, ethnicity and gender, walk up and play one of the 20 pianos that now dot Indianapolis and Carmel as part of the public art project GO Ahead & Play.
By now, you’ve probably seen the pianos — or at least read about them.
The Women’s Fund of Central Indiana is sponsoring the project as part of its youth philanthropy program, GO: Give Back. Students asked residents, businesses and schools to donate the pianos, and then worked with artists to decorate them. The instruments, which have been weatherproofed, will remain outdoors through Aug. 18.
So far, so good. People are indeed going ahead and playing.
On Sunday, the bench for the piano at the intersection of Mass Ave, Vermont and Alabama Streets was almost never empty. First, I spotted a girl of about 8, putting her piano lessons to good use. Then her older sister sat down and did the same, promoting her mother to shoot some video on her smartphone.
As the afternoon wore on, everyone from professional musicians to toddlers gave the piano a try. The music ran the gamut from Mozart and Beethoven to a rendition of — at least I think — the pop song “Blurred Lines.”
The scene was the same all over Downtown, particularly on Monument Circle, and into Fountain Square.
This is what makes Go Ahead & Play such an amazing project — one that should serve as a model for public art projects in Indianapolis for years to come.
Why? Because it works.
We’re not a city — or region, for that matter — of residents who will stop and gaze at a mural for 10 minutes just for the heck of it. Most residents aren’t going to debate the merits of a sculpture in a park and think about what it says about the postmodern era.
We are a city of residents who, when the locked-out musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra played a series of free concerts on Monument Circle last fall, mostly walked by without bothering to listen or look up.
We are indeed a sports town, as the guys and gals in Colts and Pacers jerseys like to remind me.
What’s more, Indianapolis is a city of residents who usually wait for permission to play in public spaces. Think about it. We have parks all over Indianapolis that people don’t use. We have endless stretches of grass Downtown that almost no one sets foot on unless there’s a rally or a festival. This is why you have business and community leaders wracking their brains about how to “activate” public spaces with events.
Again, this is what makes Go Ahead & Play so amazing. Somehow, the project has managed to circumvent old habits, bring people together and expose a shared, if often hidden, appreciation for the arts in our community.
The people who I saw playing pianos on Sunday didn’t do so because anyone asked them to do it or because they spotted a sign that commanded “PLAY ME!” They didn’t do it because they wanted to show off (even though at least one homeless guy brought a box to collect cash for his show; he didn’t make any money). People played simply because the pianos were there.
And the people, like me, who stopped mid-stroll, mid-jog or mid-bike ride to listen didn’t do so because they had to. They did it because they wanted to.
Both are signs of that Indianapolis is an arts town, too. It just took a few strategically placed pianos to prove it.
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