Tickling the Ivories

Touring internationally since 2008, “Play Me, I’m Yours” is an artwork by British artist Luke Jerram that involves placing pianos in public spaces. And now, thanks to Sing for Hope—a non-profit organization that marshals artists to help schools, hospitals, and more—they’re in New York City. According to Jerram, each piano acts as a sculptural, musical, blank canvas that becomes a reflection of the communities it’s embedded into. Many of the pianos are personalized and decorated. Questioning the ownership and rules of public space, “Play Me, I’m Yours” is a provocation, inviting the public to engage with, activate, and take ownership of their urban environment.

I love this notion, as back in the day when I worked for the Determent of Cultural Affairs we did many similar projects that came under the heading of public art, or “bread and circuses” as the Romans called it. Public art is often at its height when societies are hitting tough patches. We citizens, whether in Tribeca or ancient Rome, can use spontaneous, unplanned moments that capture our imagination or literally take our breath away, shaking us from the often obsessive thoughts of shoulds, coulds, and didn’ts.

Yesterday, as I returned home from meetings, looking for work and worrying about work, I rode through Tribeca Park—the little triangle at Sixth Avenue, West Broadway, and Beach—and people were tickling the ivories. On the western-facing piano was Jeremiah Bornfield, a composer who is moving across the city playing the many pianos. He was spontaneously dueting with Matteo Minasi, who hails from Italy and currently works on Sixth Avenue. “I was tempted to play for a while, but there are often such skilled people that I felt a bit intimidated,” he said. “Today I decided to come down and play anyway.”

After the grown-ups took off, the keys were plunked in another impromptu duet by a one-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl. Philip Glass watch out: New music is alive, or at least until “Play Me, I’m Yours” closes tomorrow.

About the author: Wickham Boyle, known as Wicki, has written for The New York Times, National Geographic, and other publications. She was a founder of CODE and ThriveNYC magazine, executive director of La MaMa theater, and author of A Mother’s Essays From Ground Zero (2001), which debuted as an opera in 2008. She has an MBA from Yale and worked as a Wall Street stockbroker. At Memory & Movement, she writes about memorizing poems while walking along the Hudson.

Recently in Wickiworld:
She Writes Grows Up
Tumbling Down Memory Lane with Suellen Epstein
Bells Are Ringing: Lai Montesca’s New Installation
Riverside Drive: The Red Bull Air Race
Just Shoot Me: Film Crews on N. Moore

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