Story & Photos by Andy Lyons, Editor-in-Chief
During last Friday’s Art Walk in Warrensburg, Mo., patrons were treated to a gleaming white piano in front of The Gallery Artist Cooperative. With plenty of acrylic paint on hand, passersby were prompted to paint the piano, the first of several planned for the Warrensburg community by the Warrensburg Arts Commission.
The Painted Piano Project marks an official pairing between the Warrensburg Arts Commission and the Warrensburg Arts Collective. The two share many of the same goals on a different level. Jay Linhardt, organizer of the Arts Collective and co-owner of The Gallery, compared the two entities.
“The Arts Commission does some pretty large-scale projects that bring many outside artists into the community,” he said. “The Arts Collective’s focus is completely local. The community needs both aspects, I believe we can supplement some of their projects and they have been very supportive of ours so far.”
Pine Street is typically thought of as the party hub of Warrensburg. With the First Friday Art Walks, much of the traffic includes families with younger children. The Piano Project exemplified this when the night started off with a young girl playing from training books, but also included Linhardt playing as well as a group of teenagers who stopped to play and sing together.
“Anything we can do to encourage creativity in the youth of our community I’m all behind,” he said. “One of our goals of the Arts Collective is to do just that. It’s a needed and appreciated thing here in town. I think the Burgzbop Kid’s Concert was a perfect example of that. Why not have one of the Main Street summer concert series dates be devoted to encourage music and dance for kids? That was the most attended concert ever. That speaks volumes to the value youth social and cultural programs are.”
Gary Grigsby, Vice Chair of the Arts Commission, said there are plans for multiple pianos around town including downtown – one at The Gallery Artist Cooperative and one at the Downtown Vibrations circles near the center of Pine Street.
“There will be another one or two downtown, with one at the railroad station pending approval from Amtrak,” Grigsby said. “We’re also looking at a couple of locations such as the gazebo in Blind Boone Park and north of the community center building at Grover Park. In the future, we’re looking at the possibility of putting one at Children’s Memorial Park near the entrance to Sunset Hills Cemetery.”
Linhardt said he imagines “many very special impromptu performances from members of the community and visitors. It does draw your attention seeing someone playing a piano outside on the street.”
Grigsby seconded that, saying he foresees the community being involved in piano tours of Warrensburg.
“I’d like to eventually have a piano tour and start it at (Downtown Vibrations), and moves to The Gallery, and then moves to gazebo 1 and gazebo 2 with the thought that parents, family and neighbors and even happenchance people in the downtown area would stop, look and listen and we’d have some information for them,” Grigsby said.
With the first two pianos, The Arts Collective will be completing the first one in the next few weeks and will roll the piano out to the sidewalk in front of The Gallery Artist Cooperative daily to be enjoyed by people downtown.
“We would like to see it have some basic design, but also be apparent it was a collective work,” Linhardt said. “So maybe a central theme with each side done a little differently, we’ll decide all together at the next Arts Collective meeting on Wednesday.”
The other piano, which will be at Downtown Vibrations, is being painted by Warrensburg local artist Guy Albert. Grigsby said his plan is to paint it to match it with the colored circles to appear as if they are coming out of the ground onto the piano.
Grigsby also said the Arts Commission is planning to purchase a player piano, a self-playing piano that contains a pneumatic or electro-mechanical mechanism that operates the piano action via pre-programmed music recorded on perforated paper. He said the plan is to transport the piano to Old Drum Days, Fall Festival, and other downtown festivities.
He said he would also try to wheel the piano out for the Warrensburg Farmer’s Market, although he noted the paper rolls the piano plays are fragile so there will be certain parameters involved for the piano’s use.
Grigsby said the Painted Piano Project will evolve as it develops, but the plan is to start small and build on the program depending on its successes.
“I think we’re going to evaluate what occurred with that (the piano at The Gallery) and then make a decision on how to move forward,” he said. “We may involve one of the public schools and have students paint a piano, maybe even two or three paint a different piano or a different section. It’s all kind of up in the air.
“We could have a school paint it and then after two or three months of use offer it for sale to the parents who painted it and use the funds to continue the project.”
The debut of the project brought people of all ages and all walks of life together, which Grigsby said is the most important part of the Painted Piano Project.
“We’re being a little creative in the approach but the idea is to get the community involved and give them the opportunity to play and hear the pianos,” Grigsby said.