Barcelona and Belfast. London, Paris and Sydney, Australia.
For seven weeks this summer, people in cities around the world will have their eyes on downtown Albany.
That’s because in 2014, Albany is the only city in America participating in “Play Me, I’m Yours,” a jazzy “street piano” exhibit that’s moving around the planet.
Launched by British artist Luke Jerram, the idea is simple: Artists turn old pianos into artworks and the pianos are placed on the streets where anyone who encounters them can touch the keys and make music or sounds.
“I feel very excited to be part of it. It’s an international exhibit, it’s been in so many cities,” says Vincent Tocco of Rotterdam, one of 13 regional artists who created an Albany street piano from an old upright that was donated to the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District.
Tocco’s piano, “Spiritual Street,” has a colorful paisley pattern on a black background, an homage to the psychedelic 1960s, and is installed at the Times Union Center.
On Friday, the painted, decoupaged, bejeweled and sculpted pianos were unveiled in Albany, and the musical instruments will remain on the streets through Sunday, July 27.
’Play me, I’m Yours’
WHAT: Outdoor exhibit of 13 pianos
WHEN: Through Sunday, July 27
WHERE: Various sites in downtown Albany. Maps available online, at the Albany Visitors Center, 25 Quackenbush Square, and at Albany BID office, 40 North Pearl St.
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: www.pianosalbanyny.com, downtownalbany.org and Facebook.
Since 2008, “Play Me, I’m Yours” has installed more than 1,200 piano artworks in 45 cities around the world, and an estimated 6 million people have played them.
Four years ago, 60 pianos appeared in the five boroughs of New York City. “Play Me” has also happened in Boston, Los Angeles and a half-dozen smaller U.S. cities.
On www.pianosalbanyny.com, piano viewers and players from around the world will look at the pianos in Albany, and people from the Capital Region are invited to add their videos, photos and stories.
“It’s free and open to everyone,” says Georgette Steffens, executive director of the Albany BID. “The most successful programs we’ve had are programs where people can engage in them.”
This is the ninth year that Albany BID has been doing a “Sculpture in the Streets” program.
Two years ago, when the theme was Dutch shoes, people liked to sit in one of the big decorated clogs, and the artwork had its own Facebook page.
The street pianos are expected to attract all kinds of musicians, Steffens says.
The piano that’s installed at Capital Repertory Theatre will be played by a musician from “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” which opens July 15 at the playhouse.
The artists who applied for the project were selected by a panel of jurors that included Richard Lovrich, creative director at Capital Rep and Proctors; independent curator Fabienne Powell and artists Harold Lohner and Sampson Contompasis.
Most of the artists worked on their pianos at 540 Broadway, a downtown Albany office building, in a large first-floor room where passers-by could watch them paint, saw, paste, cut and glue.
The youngest artist, 14-year-old Heidi Schuman, worked at her home in Nassau, Rensselaer County.
Before they were rolled out and bolted to the sidewalks, each piano was professionally tuned.
“They will be tuned every other week, according to the weather. For seven weeks, we want them to be playable,” says Steffens.
When it rains, plastic covers will be slipped over the instruments.
“These are sort of end-of-life pianos,” says Steffens. “And they are going to be out in the elements.”
After the exhibit, the Albany BID hopes to have an auction and donate them to the community.
On June 2, the last day that artists could work on their pianos, Tocco was up all night putting final touches on his piece.
Using spray paint, he created each teardrop shape, then outlined it with a brush or marker.
Inspired by 1960s
“I’m really inspired by 1960s psychedelic and spiritual art,” he says.
A self-taught artist and founder of Existing Artists, a Schenectady-based arts collective, Tocco was a regular exhibitor at Art Night Schenectady.
He’s done several art projects for Troy Night Out, designed the logo for Albany’s Dali Mamma Cafe and exhibited in “On Deck,” an art-on-skateboards show at Spring Street Gallery in Saratoga Springs.
In 2008, he led a group that painted a mural over unwanted graffiti in Rotterdam’s Esposito Park.
His interest in art began when he was a Yates Elementary student and evolved at Mohonasen High School, but the person who most inspired him was his grandmother, Margaret Tocco, who painted landscapes but never exhibited.
“She really encouraged me,” he says.
Music and art
While he doesn’t play the piano, Tocco loves music and embraces the philosophy of “Play Me, I’m Yours,” which in England challenged the idea that musicians need permission to play in the streets.
“Music and art go hand in hand. They are like brother and sister,” Tocco says. “I love community art. You don’t have to search for it. You take it as it is.”
The artists, their pianos and where you can find them
Here’s a list of the artists who made street pianos and where you can find them:
-- “Rhapsody in Bloom,” by Jessyka Neitzel of Altamont, 39 North Pearl St.
-- “Music in the Garden,” Elaine Wilson, Schodack Landing; Academy Park, across from Albany City Hall
-- “Shine,” William (Rico) Butler Jr., Schenectady; Albany Coliseum, 153 South Pearl St.
-- “Singing Piano,” Peter Leue, Albany; Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl St.
-- “The Keys to Success,” Sarah Holub Schrom, East Worcester; Clinton Square, Clinton Avenue and North Pearl Street
-- “Music of Monet,” Heidi Schuman, Nassau; Federal Park Plaza, across from Palace Theatre
-- “Park & Play,” by First Church in Albany; at First Church in Albany, 110 North Pearl St.
-- “Holly Golightly’s Piano,” Denise Poutre, Albany; Hudson River Way Pedestrian Bridge, Broadway and Maiden Lane
-- “Somos El Futuro,” Bob Anderson, Albany; Omni Plaza, 30 South Pearl St.
-- “Let’s Paint the Town Red,” Mitchell Biernacki and Tony Iadicicco, Glenmont; SUNY Administration Plaza Park, Broadway and State Street
-- “Minueggs in G,” Ruby Silvious, Coxsackie; Ten Eyck Plaza, 40 North Pearl St.
-- “Spiritual Street,” Vincent Tocco, Rotterdam; Times Union Center, 51 South Pearl St.
-- “Ghost City,” Samson Contompasis, Albany; Tricentennial Park, Broadway and Columbia Street
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or [email protected]