Music and art come together on Omaha streets

A piano at the base of the pedestrian bridge near Lewis & Clark Landing. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
A mother and her young son sit at the piano at Lewis & Clark Landing. Unfortunately, rain ruined this piano. Organizers said weather is often a factor in deciding where to place pianos. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
Security guards oversee the installation and placing of this piano in the ConAgra Foods Plaza. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
The artwork on this piano was designed by artist Bob Bosco, an avid yoga enthusiast. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News)
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September 5, 2013 - 6:30am

A public art project that’s been to cities across the world has made its way to Nebraska. 10 pianos placed throughout Omaha are bringing together music and art on the city’s streets.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Artist Bob Bosco watches as a team of movers navigate the brick-top path with his piano. Bosco was one of ten local artists selected to design the artwork for the "Play Me, I'm Yours" art project.

A team of professional movers unloaded a piano off a truck in downtown Omaha, but they didn’t take it to an apartment, a house, a place of business—not even someplace indoors.

“Some pianos go to concerts in parks, but this is the first time we’re putting a piano in a park and walking away,” Jason Peterson said.

Peterson works with Transfer 88, the company moving the piano.

He and his team walked away, because the piano, along with nine others, is part of a touring public art project.

“They’re all a little different so far. I’ve taken pictures of them all. They all have their different qualities,” Peterson said.

Developed by British artist Luke Jerram, the project has been touring internationally since 2008. It’s called “Play Me, I’m Yours” and the simplicity of the idea is almost as beautiful as the pianos—take a piano, make it a piece of art, put it in a public place, and let anyone play it.

Photos by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Above: Sally Reay, the "Play Me, I'm Yours" project manager, attaches a sticker to the piano placed under the Florence Park Gazebo. Reay said the project creator, Luke Jerram, will be in Boston in late September to place the 1000th piano.

Below: Children from a local day care center enjoy the piano at Florence Park.  The piano was painted by local artist Alicia Reyes McNamara

Sally Reay works for Jerram, and said he came up with the idea while sitting in a laundry mat, when he noticed no one was speaking to one another.

“He was wondering how he could break down those barriers, and he was thinking , ‘Wow, if I put a piano in here, people would start playing it and start talking to each other,’” Reay explained. “People from different walks of life, different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and different age groups. I don’t know if it’s the same here, but in the U.K people are becoming segregated. Young people are living in one community and older people are living in gated communities.”

"Play Me, I’m Yours" has been to more than 36 cities across the world. Places like Munich, Paris, London, Geneva, and now Omaha. Next month, Jerram will place the 1000th piano in Boston.

The pianos are placed in public parks, bus shelters, train stations, markets and even ferries. How long they remain on the streets is up to each community. The pianos have been on Omaha streets for two weeks. And while it wasn’t a part of the original concept, now most of the pianos feature designs created by artists in the local community.

Bob Bosco is one such artist.

“It’s incredible, it’s very creative, it’s very communal,” Bosco said.

Bosco is an art professor at Creighton University. His work is featured on a piano placed in the ConAgra Foods Plaza in downtown Omaha. Bosco, an avid yoga practitioner, based his design on the paintings he’s done of various yoga poses.

“I figured this would be something original and new to do to the paintings. I photographed the paintings, had a friend of mine enlarge them onto archival, print making paper, and collaged them onto the piano and painted into them sometimes,” Bosco said as he described his process.

Sally Reay said the art on the side of the pianos doesn’t just make them standout more, it makes them more approachable.

“If they just look like a normal piano, people might just think it’s in the middle of being transported from one place to another. So actually having them decorated and the words ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ on there is a real invitation for people to come and play,” Reay said.

And that’s the whole point. To have people come and play these pianos.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

This piano, which features artwork by Bob Bosco, was placed in the ConAgra Foods Plaza in Downtown Omaha. Bosco drew on his love of yoga as the inspiration for this work. He said this project allowed the three things he loves most (music, yoga, and of course art) to come together beautifully for the public's enjoyment.

Susan Thomas is the executive director of the Omaha Creative Institute. The OCI is responsible for helping to bring "Play Me, I’m Yours" to Nebraska. She said this project has the ability to introduce people who may not pay attention to such things to the world of art.

Or as she said, “People in the community that may not be a part of the art scene, that may find going to the opera or the symphony or Joslyn or Bemis intimidating, but these are all outside, and you can do it any day of the week. You can play chop-sticks, or you can play Rachmaninoff.”

Rachmaninoff, or something a little more in touch with Omaha’s bluesy roots. Regardless of the song, everyone involved with bringing "Play Me, I’m Yours" to Nebraska said the project has been a resounding success.

And as it prepares to travel to Boston, organizers in Omaha said they’re hopeful "Play Me, I’m Yours" will be back again someday for an encore.



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