Starting Friday, a stroll through one of Portland’s downtown squares may be accompanied by a live piano performance.

Four pianos will be placed along Congress Street – in Monument Square, Congress Square, Longfellow Square and Bramhall Square. Each was painted this week by local artists.

The Pianos in the Square project aims to add artistic vibrancy to Portland, said Sally DeLuca, Portland’s director of parks, recreation and facilities.

Participants and staff at Bomb Diggity Art paint an upright piano on Wednesday. Clockwise from top: volunteer Celeste Henriquez, direct support provider Dana Dotson, program participants Paul Sandberg and Kendra Sanborn. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“You never know who will sit down and play, and you probably didn’t know just how talented people are,” she said.

DeLuca has seen this type of display in other cities and thought it would be a great addition to Portland.

Performances by local musicians are scheduled for each location Friday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Then, throughout the month of July, the pianos will be left in the squares during the day and available to anyone who wants to play.

Annabelle Brooks, a 13-year-old student at King Middle School, will be representing the Maine Academy of Modern Music when she performs in Monument Square on Friday. Brooks, who plans to perform songs such as “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” said she sees this project as a way to brighten the community and give people a chance to experiment with a new instrument.

Portland Parks, Recreation & Facilities partnered with Portland Downtown and Friends of Congress Square to seek out local businesses and art studios to sponsor and design the pianos.

From left, program participants Josh Lonsdale and Ryan Phinney, staffer James Sylvester, and team leader Jamison York, of The Art Department, paint an upright piano on Wednesday. Artists elsewhere in Portland are transforming a total of four old pianos for public display – and use –in different public squares. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The business sponsors are responsible for pushing the pianos out each morning, bringing them back inside in the evening and keeping them covered during bad weather. Each piano is on casters and can be easily moved.

The businesses involved include One Longfellow Square, OneSixGreen, Portland Flea for All and PelotonLabs.

Sherwin Young, the owner of Starbird Music and Piano Gallery, offered to donate two pianos after seeing an ad on Craigslist posted by Dela Murphy of Friends of Congress Square. He also offered to give each of the pianos a tuneup. “I’m excited to help bring the ‘public piano’ phenomenon to our fine city,” Young said.

Each piano was donated and came to the city at no cost. Young said that “all of the pianos are in varying degrees of neglect-induced disrepair.” However with a tuneup and a paint job, the pianos will be ready for use and should last throughout the month if they remain protected, Young said.

This week, local artists painted the pianos for the upcoming reveal. The Art Department designed the piano for Longfellow Square to be a dragon, a common theme at their studio. The piano will be covered with scales on the back, and teeth where the keys would be.

At Bomb Diggity Arts, a group of artists painted their piano with a collection of eyes, lips and noses covering the woodwork. Down the street, Adria Moynihan Rusk, the owner of Still Life Studio, worked on her piano on-site in Bramhall Square. She decided on a “free-form” design.

Haley Nannig, left, Adria Moynihan Rusk and Grace Cleaves put a base coat of paint on an upright piano on Wednesday in Bramhall Park. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“I wanted it to stand out,” Rusk said, “compared to all the dark colors in the square.” Rusk’s piano is sponsored by PelotonLabs, a coworking space near Bramhall Square.

Liz Trice, the CEO of PelotonLabs, said that her company has been trying to make improvements to Bramhall Square for several years, so they were interested in any activity or project that would make the space more attractive.

One Longfellow Square will care for the piano designed by The Art Department. The programming director and venue manager, Jeff Beam, is glad the city is investing in music and art.

As a touring musician, Beam has come across public pianos in cities across the U.S.

“Sometimes, the most surprising characters become inspired to play when they see a piano out in the wild,” Beam said. “Live music can really transform a space. It’s always a delight to see and hear live music in unexpected places.”

Julie Pike can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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