Piano Publique: A Student-led Public Art Initiative
Last fall, visitors to the UVA Arts Grounds had a lot more “play” time thanks to Piano Publique, a student-driven public art initiative that is part of an interdisciplinary class sponsored by Arts Administration. The class, organized by Department of Music lecturer Peter Bussigel and student John Costello, challenged students to transform locally donated pianos from throughout the Charlottesville community into functional pieces of public art. Pianos as public art is a concept that has taken off around the world, including through Play Me, I’m Yours, a travelling international art organization that has created temporary installations of over 1,500 painted pianos in 50 major cities around the globe. “As art, music is an invisible beauty,” Costello said, “resonating creative skill and imagination ephemeral in instance yet enduring in impression. A piano is an instrument of music, and promoting public access will hopefully remind people that daily life can always be beautiful.” Those reminders came in a variety of highly creative designs that highlighted the instruments’ settings, stories, and their ever-enticing invitation to all who encounter them to create and send art out into the world. From a piano that offers a window into its inner workings and is adorned with antennae-like “sound waves” to bring together the concepts of sight and sound to another that uses LED lighting to animate the processes by which the sounds are made within the instrument, the student designs were wildly innovative, and in at least one case, “rooted” in history. “Overgrowth of Art,” by Amy Kislyakov (College ‘19), Amanda Brownee (College ‘20), and Zach Schauffler (College ‘19), featured an instrument that appeared to literally spring from the earth, surrounded by vines, leaves, plants, and dirt. Another piece from the class was inspired by the story of the piano’s donation – it came from the first-ever woman to receive a scholarship to Juilliard, who turned down the offer to wait for her husband. Students included a plaque to commemorate the story and reached out to family members to get first-hand inspiration on the story behind the instrument. In addition to the design process, participating students received valuable experience in project budgeting in addition to navigating the approval process for public art. Piano Publique was presented with generous support from the Office of the Dean of Students, College Council, and the Public Art Committee.