The Hippo


Jul 15, 2019








One of downtown Manchester’s new pianos. Jen Robinson photo.

Play on
Pianos arrive in downtown Manchester

By Kelly Sennott

 Every morning at 7 a.m. last summer, passersby at Victory Park were treated to music, courtesy of the painted piano that Intown Manchester placed there in June.

“There was a gentleman who went and played pretty religiously,” said Intown Executive Director Sara Beaudry, who at the time received many calls commenting on the tunes, from park maintenance workers to Victory Parking Garage employees. “It was really nice.”
Before the Victory Park installation, Beaudry had been keeping her eye on the downtown piano trend; in New Hampshire, Nashua and Littleton had incorporated street pianos to their local landscape, a huge success for both cities, providing beauty through their paint jobs and their music. Beaudry’s a big fan of public art and what it can do for a downtown, and she felt street pianos could cover more bases than, for example, murals.
“The more public art you have, the more it will enhance that city,” Beaudry said via phone. “I think [installing downtown pianos] is a way to add a little culture and creativity to our streets first-hand. Anybody can participate. It’s not like [visual art], where you get to look but you don’t get to participate. You can actually play on these pianos.”
Beaudry learned Piano Movers Inc. of Nashua had some spares in storage late spring of 2016. It was too late to initiate a big project that season, but Beaudry was able to quickly snag a sponsor and local artist to paint a single piano and place it in Victory Park. It would be a test run; if people played, Intown could move forward with more the next summer.
Play they did — and so, this spring, Beaudry collected three more pianos from the company and partnered with New Hampshire Institute of Art staff and students to decorate the instruments. 
BFA Illustration Chair Ryan O’Rourke led the charge with his community studio class, which focuses on pairing students with local organizations and businesses; past collaborations were with Easterseals New Hampshire, Old Sol Music Hall, Opera New Hampshire, New Hampshire Magazine, Red River Theatres. Students also regularly design Intown Manchester’s street banners. 
“For me, the hardest thing coming out of school was getting that first job. The whole idea behind these civic projects is, if we can get that taken care of before you graduate, then you already have a client list you’re building. Clients are more willing to work with you if they see you’ve already been working,” O’Rourke said during an interview at the school as he and two students — illustration majors and recent grads Kaitlyn Dine and Max Gagnon — placed final coats on the three pianos. “Every project has some kind of payment for whoever was chosen to go forward with it.”
Students created six designs, from which Intown chose three to move forward with. Painting began in April, and the artists have been working hard ever since trying to get them ready for the big reveal at the Manchester Farmers Market June 15.
One piano is rich with references to stories, including The Wizard of Oz, The Little Mermaid, The Borrowers, Aladdin and Where the Wild Things Are. Covering the keys is a yellow brick road, and painted on the sides are stacks of books flying into the air. Another instrument is studded with the kinds of things you might find in a garden: flowers, butterflies, ladybugs, bumblebees, bunnies and gnomes. The last, inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, depicts a crimson fire-breathing dragon. 
Intown provided an artist stipend, and Beaudry estimates the instruments will be downtown — by City Hall, Cafe la Reine and the Palace Theatre — until August. Awnings will help protect the paint jobs, as will tarps that will get thrown over them during rain storms. The hope is to add more each year.
“I think it brings  a new character to the city,” Dine said. “And it’s great exposure, not just for us — it shows our engagement with the community as well.” 

®2019 Hippo Press. site by wedu