In Fort Collins, a program keeps the music alive by putting pianos around and asking people to play them… and paint them… – Colorado Public Radio | Candle Made Easy

Zany admits they’re unlikely to become professional artists. Sure, they’ve created murals and chalk art, but the Fossil Ridge High School graduate has never before painted a piano. Now, a program in Fort Collins is making it possible to give the community a place to showcase their art and keep the music going.

The popular Pianos About Town project is a year-round program that brings pianos together with artists who paint them outside during the summer. This “art and action” gives the community the opportunity to meet the artists. Liz Good, visual arts coordinator for the city of Fort Collins, says the coalition behind the project was determined not to let the pandemic stop painting or music.

“We worked really hard to keep the artists painting because it was important for us to keep having artists, and I mean we had some extra safety measures,” Good said. “But we found that the pianos were actually a lot more important to people during the pandemic.

Pianos About Town was inspired by a traveling exhibition by British artist Luke Jerram called Play Me, I’m Yours. It’s a joint effort by the city, Downtown Development Authority, Art and Public Places, and the Bohemian Foundation. This year saw the highest number of applications for the project. Of the 13 selected artists, 12 are new to the program and have never painted a piano. Zany grew up with the program, but one day they painted for Pianos About Town for the first time.

“Actually, I was inspired by my art teachers. Two of my high school art teachers are quite involved in public art in Fort Collins and have painted pianos and electric boxes across the city. So I had to spend a few years watching them do it,” Zany said. “And I ended up applying because it’s my last summer that I can be in Fort Collins. And I was really lucky to have the opportunity to get and give back to this program that I’ve been seeing since about 2014.”

Eden Lane / CPR News
Zany, a graduate of Fossil Ridge High School, paints a piano as part of Fort Collins’ Pianos About Town program.
Zany, a graduate of Fossil Ridge High School, paints a piano as part of Fort Collins’ Pianos About Town program.

All painted pianos remain in the program’s permanent collection. Zany believes in respecting the importance of art in public spaces.

“They’ve actually never had to repaint any of the pianos, which is really cool. And I think that … public art and making art is something so special,” Zany said. “It’s a lot more accessible than art in museums and stuff. And these are two types of art that, in addition to musical art, are also visual arts.”

Both of Zany’s art teachers stopped by to surprise their former student.

“I’m a first-generation college student and I had to pay for college all by myself. And the only reason I’ve been able to do that is because I learned to love making art and selling my art and having confidence,” Zany said. “So yeah, those two women really made an impact on me and they were the last art teachers I had because I didn’t go to art school. I don’t necessarily plan on becoming a full-time artist. I’m moving to DC to actually be a diplomat, which is really cool.”

Chelsea Ermer, one of Zany’s teachers at Fossil Ridge High School, said seeing students use art to forge their own path is one of the most rewarding things they do.

“That’s what we do our work for – to see how art shapes the kids we teach, and they all walk such different paths. Also in relation to public art. It’s so awesome,” said Ermer, seen me do it and see us do it and go out and create art for this community that loves them, that we love.

Becca Black, also a teacher at Fossil Ridge, gushed when she saw what Zany created.

“And I also think just seeing you apply it in a new way that we weren’t exactly expecting, which is really cool because I never expected you to go out and … do it in a new way and.” way use and [that’s] something that will encourage you as you advance in this career.”

Christine Alice plays a piano painted as part of Fort Collins’ Pianos About Town program.

Liz Good of the City of Fort Collins said residents, tourists and other city officials appreciate having a program like Pianos About Town.

“We have people who want to go back to their cities and start similar projects,” Good said. “So they will contact us and get advice. And so it’s really nice that we feel like our program was a kind of seed for other programs around the country, and [we] even got a call from the UK. So almost all around the world.”

Before she finished her painted piano and started her career, Zany said she was grateful for this program in her hometown.

“I was very fortunate to have a program like this that I watched as a kid and throughout high school. So I was fortunate to see people performing magic on these pianos.”

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