Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Toledo Magazine: Play It, Toledo

From start to finish, it is quite possibly the ultimate performance art project:

Pianos — not the fancy, grand variety, but pianos that were meant to be played a lot — are donated to an arts organization, placed in a public place to be painted, and then left there for anyone from the most accomplished musician to a curious child to come along and play.

The Art Tatum Jazz Heritage Foundation created the Pianos for Art project this year to honor its namesake's 100th birthday and claim a little artistic synergy similar to the It's Reigning Frogs public art campaign in 2001 that featured giant, brightly painted frogs around Toledo.

But this effort came with a twist, noted Kay Elliott of the jazz foundation, who related the reaction of one of the organization's helpers when the frog comparison was made.

‘‘Someone said, ‘Wow, this is just like the frogs,' and he said, ‘You couldn't play a frog.' ''

There are now 10 colorful pianos dotted around the city at places such as Toledo Botanical Garden, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, the Lucas County Arena, and One Government Center. All of them were painted by people of the community, except the one at the Toledo Zoo, which is the creation of Renee the Elephant, who painted it holding a brush in her trunk.

The idea for the project was piggybacked off a similar effort in London, where pianos were placed throughout the city for people to play.

Ms. Elliott said the Jazz Foundation was looking for a splashy way to kick off its new vision — including no longer being called the Jazz Society — while honoring the centennial of the birth of the great pianist and Toledo native, Art Tatum.

‘‘This is our first event, and we wanted to include the city and we wanted it to be pianorelated,'' she said.

The pianos were provided by people around the area eager to get rid of the old instruments; All of the movers and artists donated their time to the project.

Also donating his time was a piano tuner who got all the instruments ready to play.

At the end of the year the pianos will be auctioned to raise money for the Jazz Foundation and, Ms. Elliott hopes, plenty of people will have had a chance to tickle the ivories and channel a little bit of Tatum's creative energy.

‘‘It's interactive in every possible way and it brings smiles,'' she said. ‘‘It just gives you hope.''

To see all the of the locations of the Pianos for Art, go the Art Tatum Jazz Heritage Foundation Web site.

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