BANNER ELK — This summer, taking a stroll around Banner Elk will have an added pleasure — fully operational pianos situated throughout town, ready for players.
It’s been dubbed “The Piano Project,” and it’s purely for public enjoyment. A sign on each piano says, “go ahead, play me,” and that’s just what organizers want folks to do.
The six pianos, donated from a variety of sources, have been transformed into visual art. Each one is different, hand painted and carved.
Banner Elk Chamber president Jo-Ann McMurray had the inspiration. She and her husband knew about the “Play Me, I’m Yours” street piano installations created by British artist Luke Jerram. While Jerram’s pianos have been sited in Florence, London, New York City and other major cities, the McMurrays figured that Banner Elk was an equally worthy venue. So they purchased three vintage-but-still-usable upright pianos and donated them to get the project rolling. Generous donors provided three others.
Pianos in hand, McMurray turned to creative minds at Lees-McRae College for the all-important visual embellishments. Danielle Curtis, who heads the theater department, realized that painting the pianos would make a great Mountain Day Service project.
Mountain Day is a Lees-McRae tradition in which students engage in community work. Curtis recruited student artists from the Nerd Club and Alpha Psi Omega, the honorary theater society and reserved space at the Lauritsen Technical Theater and Design Studio, where sets are constructed for the school’s theatrical productions. Faculty and staff got into the project as well; co-tech director, Scott Koenig, actually cutout sections of one piano and replaced the wood with plexiglass.
The Lees-McRae team collaborated on the creation of four piano works of art. Banner Elk artists took on the other two: Ray and Patty Knowles painted one, and Kent Paulette, Brian Quinlin and Angelo Accetturo, resident artists at Gallery 140, looked after the other.
Before they spend the summer at various locations around town, the pianos will each receive a tuning thanks to piano tuning software donated by dirksprojects.com.
The Piano Project takes to the streets of Banner Elk with a grand unveiling on Saturday, July 9. The pianos go on view for a sneak-peek exhibition from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 11, at the Historic Banner Elk School gym.