Heart & Soul public art project places pianos around University City

Artists decorated pianos for the project. DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Artists decorated pianos for the project. DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: June 07, 2012

GO AHEAD. Play the art.

The University City District’s new project, Heart & Soul, employed eight local artists to gussy-up pianos that will be placed around University City from Thursday-June 17. The project kicks off Wednesday with a party at The Porch at 30th Street Station, where pro key ticklers will try out the pianos before they get put on the streets.

Although Philadelphia is no stranger to public art projects, both permanent and temporary, it’s rare that they have a participatory element (aside from posing beside it and mugging for a photo, of course).

"The piano is so accessible. You could be Fats Waller or Thelonious Monk. Or you can do ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ or Bon Jovi’s ‘Living on a Prayer,’ " said Thom Lessner, an artist whose piano will be at Clark Park (43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue). "This is so interactive. The piano is perfect because you write music on it and you can play anything on it."

Mark Christman, communications manager for the University City District, said the pianos will be tuned regularly and locked down so there won’t be a chance of seeing anyone hurriedly pushing an artistically decorated piano down Walnut Street. Each piano will be available for anyone to play from dawn till dusk (they’ll be locked up at night). And each has a cover to protect it.

"These things are pretty remarkable. From the playful to the highly conceptual to very sculptural, some of them are pretty far out," Christman said about the designs. "They’re pianos, of course, but they look slightly different from the pianos you grew up with."

Joe Boruchow, an artist known for his meticulous black-and-white paper cutouts, was attracted to the Heart & Soul project because of its temporary nature. "Part of the inspiration was knowing that it wasn’t going to be there for very long," Boruchow said. "The ephemeral qualities of art and music which worked well with my work."

Boruchow’s work was inspired by early American furniture design, with columns on the sides and a Fountain of Youth scene on the back. "I can’t wait to hear what someone plays," said Boruchow, who is a musician himself. "If I played piano, I’d want one that looked like mine."

Lessner created his work in the style of a 1980s sports car, partly in homage to his 6-year-old cousin who takes piano lessons. "I look at him on this sterile upright piano, which is an intimidating instrument. I was thinking a bright-red sports car might make it funner for a 6-year-old."

Christman is not only excited by what people play on the piano, but what others bring to the project as well. "West Philly is a music neighborhood, so I’m particularly interested in seeing pop-up concerts happening on all of these pianos. I’m excited not only for pianists, but for their buddies with guitars and percussionists organizing impromptu concerts. I think that’s really where the magic is going to come from." n

Opening party, The Porch at 30th Street Station, 30th and Market streets, 6 p.m. Wednesday, free, universitycity.org.

Contact Molly Eichel at 215-854-5909 or eichelm@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mollyeichel. Read her blog posts at philly.com/entertainment.

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