Pianos in the streets


It’ll be hard to bring them to Regina

Don’t mind if I tickle the ivories before grabbing some literature. / Carrie Smith, courtesy of Dunlop Art Gallery

Don’t mind if I tickle the ivories before grabbing some literature. / Carrie Smith, courtesy of Dunlop Art Gallery

If you’ve been to bigger cities like Toronto or Edmonton, you may have noticed pianos, often painted with an assortment of colours and themes, scattered throughout the downtown core. A few weeks ago, Edmonton resident Roslyn Polard happened upon Ryan Arcand, a homeless man, playing one such street piano with surprising talent. Polard stopped to listen to Arcand and took a video of him playing, which she eventually posted on YouTube.

The video went viral, and news agencies across the country and the world covered the story. CBC Edmonton later did an in-depth article on Arcand himself.

One incredible thing about this story is how one instrument could change so many lives. Not only did a homeless man find comfort in his undoubtedly difficult life through music, but passersby were struck by the beauty of his music – so much so that they paused their busy lives to listen him play and then shared it with the world.

This story got me thinking that Regina could benefit from street pianos. Music is a beautiful and uplifting art, and it would be fantastic to have open access to it in an informal setting.

The Dunlop Art Gallery actually experimented with a street piano in Kathleen Irwin and Jeff Morton’s 2013 exhibit “PLAY.”

Assistant Curator Blair Fornwald explained that the project was a great success.

“It was one of our most popular exhibitions…there is something really attractive and really inviting about a piano. It’s a familiar thing.”

However, Fornwald explained, the piano was unlikely to reappear.

“It was really well received here by members of the public [and] by the RPL [Regina Public Library] community. People really enjoy having that interactive work, but our mandate is for continuously changing exhibitions,” Fornwald explained. Though, she did agree that the concept of street pianos was a great one.

“It underscores all the creative performative possibilities that are inherent in everyday life…. There is certainly something lovely about these pianos being an invitation that celebrates the creativity of ordinary people.”

Unfortunately, other community organizations in the city are also unlikely to pursue such a project because of their limited resources.

“It is not likely a project we would pursue. As a stringed instrument, pianos are pretty sensitive to extreme temperatures. A piano would really only be viable in the summer months. And then you would need the resources to move and store the piano for the remainder of the year,” Executive Director of Community Heritage Association Kathleen Wilson explained to me in an email.

It seems as though the outlook for street pianos arriving in Regina is quite dismal. However, hope is not lost entirely.

“Play Me, I’m Yours” is a street piano project created in 2008 and managed since then by UK artist Luke Jerram. Jerram works with cities around the world – specifically arts organizations in the city – to install pianos for two or three weeks.

A few weeks in the middle of the summer would be a great time for pianos to populate the streets of Regina: the weather is usually fair and people actually go outside. However, it seems more interest than mine is needed before Regina folk can freely listen to and play piano on our city’s streets.

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