On Wednesday afternoon, while the bankers and lawyers who populate the normally staid precincts of 28 Liberty Street (the office complex formerly known as Chase Manhattan Plaza) toiled away, an insurrection of sorts was taking place on the 16th story of the building. There, in space donated by the landmark structure's new owners, Chinese real estate developer Fosun International, creative minds and brights colors were turned loose on 50 pianos scattered among the many rooms on the empty floor. Their mission was to festoon the spinets and grands with everything from a moose with paint dripping off its ears to clouds scudding across a cerulean sky, inspired by the "severe clear" weather of September 11, 2001
This happy chaos was sparked by Sing for Hope, a non-profit organization founded by renowned opera sopranos Monica Yunus and Camille Zamora. They were moved to start the organization a decade ago in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's devastation. Sing for Hope brings arts outreach programs to communities in need and provides a network of support for artists who want to give back to their communities. The group's signature community initiative is the Sing for Hope Pianos, a public art project that merges creative place-making with the organization's mission of art for everybody.
For two weeks each June, the project brings stunningly painted pianos -- each a unique piece created by a different volunteer artist or designer -- to New York City streets, parks, and public spaces, covering the northern Bronx to Staten Island. By daring passersby to tinkle at the keys, the project seeks to provoke spontaneous community-building through impromptu concerts and sing-alongs. After the pianos are publicly exhibited for two weeks, Sing for Hope donates the instruments to New York City public schools and community centers, where they enjoy a second life as hubs of year-round arts programming.
But before the pianos can be publicly unveiled or given away, they must be brought to life through paint. That was the order of the day at 28 Liberty. Although the project is publicly visible for ten days, Sing for Hope and the artists work on the pianos for many weeks before they are displayed. Last month, artists from Canada came arrived to paint their piano, while others (they are recruited from around the world) will finish up their projects in early May.
Once the paint is dry, Sing for Hope staffers fan out across the City to handpick the locations for each piano. Paula Nemerson, the group's director of community arts said, "The idea is that the art should compliment where it is placed, ideally." The ultimate goal of Sing for Hope, the City's biggest public art project, is to enliven neighborhoods throughout New York, rich or poor.
text and top photo by Jonathan Perelman
photos (3) Yuri Fennelly
originally published: Perelman, Jonathan. The Local News of Lower Manhattan. The Broadsheet, 04/07/2016 12:53 EST. Web. 07 April 2016. <http://www.ebroadsheet.com/Entries/2016/4/7_Lower_Manhattan_Office_Tower_Hosts_Artists_Seeking_to_Render_the_Audible_Visual.html>