By now, you’ve probably seen a few of those random, brightly painted pianos around Reno—in parks, on street corners or other strategic locations. You might have even played a couple of them. There are 15 of them in all, used pianos procured by the Steinway Piano Gallery of Reno, decorated by local artists like Mallory Mishler, Derek McDonald and Danny Collazo and placed around town for the duration of July.
The project, titled rePIANO, began when Reno City Councilman Dave Aiazzi learned about a similar project, Play Me, I’m Yours, by artist Luke Jerram, which placed pianos all over London in 2008. Aiazzi thought it seemed like a good idea for Reno during Artown, but he says he wanted it to be something that happened sort of on the sly, with interest generated primarily through word of mouth.
“I said, ‘I don’t want it in the [Artown guide] book, I don’t want it to be advertised,’” he says. “I just wanted it to happen organically, and that’s exactly how it’s happened. Surprise people a little bit.”
Like every other big new idea of the last few years, online social networking is a big component of the rePIANO project. Since there’s no published map or guide to the locations of all the pianos, very few people actually know where they all are. There’s a rePIANO Facebook page, maintained by the Artown folks, where users can post pictures and videos of their friends and families playing the pianos. A loose, friendly competition has developed on the page as users try to track down the more obscure pianos and be the first to post pictures from each location.
The pianos have attracted players of different skill levels. Walking around Reno in recent weeks, local ears have been tickled by all kinds of music, from Chopin to after-hours blues to hamfisted, tonedeaf pounding.
Some skillful pianists have camped out at some of the pianos, setting up tip jars and making a day of it. Aiazzi says he has no problem with people busking at the pianos.
“They’re there for people to interact with how they want,” he says. “If you want to, you can take a picnic and go up to a park where there’s a baby grand, and have a friend of yours sing while you play the piano. It’s very nice.”
As is often the case with public art, there have been a few incidents of vandalism. But Aiazzi says there have actually been fewer incidents than might be expected, and that the artists and organizers have been able to take these problems in stride.
“We said, let’s fix it as best we can and keep moving forward,” he says.
Armando Garcia, a musician currently based in Las Vegas, but who lived in Reno for 35 years, is up in Reno to see his daughters, both dancers, perform in Artown events. He says he’s played on many of the pianos, testing them out with his upbeat original tunes, like “Chase.” He says that the quality of the pianos is inconsistent.
“A couple of them are pretty sad,” he says. “But it was a great thought, and I really think their heart was in the right place by doing this.”