Pianos About Town Adds Color To The Fort Collins Music Scene

Pianos About Town
Pianos About Town is unveiling its colorful pianos this week in Fort Collins. Photo Credit: Bohemian Foundation
Adding Color To Fort Collins Since 2010

If you’ve ever strolled through downtown Fort Collins, you likely happened upon a vivacious, eye-grabbing piano. There’s a good chance someone was playing a tuneful sonata, practicing some newly-learned chords, or serenading the entire Old Town square with some professionally-soundings harmonies. 

Pianos About Town started up in 2010, and eight years later the colorful pianos have become as synonymous with Fort Collins as its breweries and trails. 

This week, those famed and fine-art-like pianos moved out into the public spaces around the city. In anticipation of the big move, The Colorado Sound spoke with Tom Scharf, the Chief Music Officer of the Bohemian Foundation,  which collaborates with Pianos About Town, and Ellen Martin, the Visual Arts Administrator for Fort Collins Art In Public Places. 

The Colorado Sound: What inspired you to create this program? Have you modeled the program after other cities or initiatives?

Tom Scharf: The original inspiration comes from British artist Luke Jerram who created a 60-piano installation that is touring the world, stopping in New York City in June 2010. The project was also inspired by a similar project on Denver’s 16th Street Mall. Denver’s installation is sponsored by the Downtown Denver Partnership and their program is named “Your Keys to the City”.

Pianos About Town
Photo Credit: Bohemian Foundation

The Downtown Denver Partnership shared what they learned with their installation to use as a basic blueprint for the design of Pianos About Town. The first pianos were placed in Downtown Fort Collins during the 2010 holiday season and were an instant hit. This season marks the 100th piano for the program and Bohemian Foundation will unveil a special surprise piano at a celebration event on Aug. 2. The event will be held as part of Bohemian Nights Presents Thursday Night Live and will feature a special performance in Fort Collins’ Old Town Square.

“Each artist paints their own unique piano. No piano has been painted twice.”

The Colorado Sound: How does Pianos About Town represent Fort Collins in your estimation, besides being a great and colorful place to live? How have these colorful pianos sparked interest in the community about music?

Tom Scharf: The collaboration with local artists to paint the pianos and the opportunity for spontaneous music is really what we’re going for – to create a unique Fort Collins feel. Pianos About Town is just another way of showcasing the vibrant role of music in our music ecosystem.

The Colorado Sound: Where do these pianos come from – how do you obtain them?

Ellen Martin: Pianos are acquired through donations made by community members looking to find a new home for their no-longer-used pianos. From there, pianos are picked up, free of charge from their previous homes and brought to a storage area where they are cleaned, tuned, prepped for painting and readied for the outside elements. After that, the painting begins.

The Colorado Sound: What’s the biggest challenge in making sure Pianos About Town works every year?

Ellen Martin: Weather is always an unpredictable challenge. The Fort Collins community and businesses help cover the pianos in inclement weather. This is a big help to the program.

The Colorado Sound: I hate to ask, but how do you keep these pianos safe and free of vandalism?

Ellen Martin: The artist selection committee chooses artwork that has an active composition with strong value contrast, minimizing large open spaces, reducing the opportunity for graffiti. Vandalism and graffiti damage has been minimal. The community helps us care for the pianos.

Pianos About Town
Photo Credit: Bohemian Nights

The Colorado Sound: What is it about the piano that is so aesthetically interesting? When coming up with the program, how important was it that these pianos didn’t just look good but that they also got played?

Ellen Martin: Pianos About Town is intended to be a fun, interactive art installation that adds an element of whimsy and surprise to Fort Collins. It’s rare to walk down the street and not hear a piano being played.

The Colorado Sound: Which artists are involved with Pianos About Town and how can artists who are interested in taking part get involved?

Ellen Martin: Each artist brings their own passion and expertise to the Pianos About Town program. Northern Colorado artists submit a proposal and concept image in January and are selected by a committee in the spring. Each artist paints their own unique piano. No piano has been painted twice.

You can view – and play – the pianos in several Fort Collins locations throughout the summer.