'Pianos In Pinellas' Prepare For Crescendo In Clearwater

If you find yourself strolling around Clearwater in the coming months, you may notice some unlikely sounds about town – the tinkling of the ivories coming from uniquely painted pianos perched along sidewalks and gracing local storefronts and restaurants.

What’s more is that each one will come with an open invitation for you to sit down and play a few keys.

“Pianos In Pinellas” is a new arts initiative that aims to connect strangers by way of music. The project will include a total of 10 pianos, each one painted by local artists.

“They’re going to be located at high-traffic areas in and around Clearwater,” says Colin Bissett, president of The Clearwater Arts Alliance. “The point of it is that the pianos will be in public places, and anybody can come along and just play them.”

The project is loosely based on an international sensation called “Play Me, I’m Yours,” which originated in the U.K. back in 2008. Since then, more than 1,200 pianos have made their way to over 40 cities around the world. The artist behind “Play Me, I'm Yours” initiated it as a way of sparking new interactions between strangers.

“We’ve decided to take it to another level,” says Bissett.

To make it unique to the community, he’s welcoming local artists to give each piano an authentically homegrown look. How? Each paint job will feature scenes inspired by life in the Tampa Bay area.
“I just love when the community and art come together – it shows that art is for everyone,” says Sylvia Shanahan, a local painter who will be customizing one of the pianos with a team of three other colleagues.
Shanahan works out of the Tampa Bay Sculpture Center and Creative Studios in Clearwater. A recent transplant from Ohio, she specializes in using oils to bring Florida landscapes and seascapes to life. The theme for her piano, which will soon be painted, is “A Day at the Beach.”

“My opinion is that art is the process, not the product,” she says.

Capturing The Experience

Once the paint is dry, the pianos will be installed in various restaurants and retailers throughout Clearwater. Another distinctive twist is that each piano will be complete with a webcam to capture the experience. The Clearwater Arts Alliance will open the recordings at different times, then upload them to its website and to YouTube. 

When “Pianos In Pinellas” began taking shape, Bissett says that finding the pianos for the project represented a significant hurdle. Then, to his pleasant surprise, one donor swept in and changed everything.

“When Colin was talking about the pianos being outside and anybody being able to play them, and local artists painting them; it just made sense,” says Randy Sheets, owner of Randy’s Wholesale Pianos in Clearwater. 

Sheets, who donated all 10 pianos for the project, was immediately inspired by “Pianos in Pinellas.” For him, music and community go hand in hand. The company has since become the project’s signature sponsor.

So how exactly will these pianos bring people together? Some retailers may choose to showcase it on the sidewalk, piquing the interest of pedestrians and shoppers. Other businesses might spotlight the piano indoors, hosting an amateur show tunes night. Another idea is to invite local singer-songwriters to take the stage and have a go at the keys. The opportunities are endless. And to help get the creative juices flowing, Bissett and his team plan on working directly with sponsors to develop themed events at various locations. 

Themes inspired by Elton John, Elvis and Casablanca are already on the table. 

Becoming A Sponsor

“It’s particularly attractive to restaurants with open air space, or a chain of restaurants where the piano can be moved from one location to another,” says Bissett.

According to Bissett, the pianos are expected to draw crowds and spark the kind of buzz that will drive more business to the venues. At this point, the Clearwater Arts Alliance is seeking out the 10 businesses that will ultimately serve as sponsors. (Sponsorships will sell to the tune of $2,500 each.) More information on how to become a sponsor will soon be posted on the Clearwater Arts Alliance website.

“Pianos in Pinellas” will kick off on November 25th and will run through the end of the year. The project’s finale will be celebrated with a gala evening that will recognize a handful of special participants. Remember those webcams? The Clearwater Arts Alliance plans on selecting 10 of the top piano performances. On the night of the gala, these winners will be invited for a grand play-off. 

All 10 painted pianos will also be auctioned off on the night of the gala. The funds raised will go to The Clearwater Arts Alliance.

Local artists interested in taking part in “Pianos In Pinellas” are encouraged to email the project’s organizers to learn more about the application process.

Marianne Hayes is a writer, wife, mother and bookworm in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. You can read about her adventures in motherhood on her blog, With Kids in Hand. Twitter: @HayesMarianne. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Marianne Hayes.

Marianne Hayes is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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