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Painted pianos across Ann Arbor in celebration of Make Music Day

Natalie Robbins, Jamie Sherman Blinder

Ashley Gray, a U-M student at the School of Kinesiology, approached the U-M Arts Initiative with a unique idea. “In my hometown of Danville, California, painted pianos were placed throughout unique public spaces,” said Gray. “The sounds of the piano lingered throughout the halls and streets of downtown, calling for pedestrians to walk over and tickle the ivories. Although these ‘art exhibits’ were temporary, it left a special imprint on community members,” Gray said.

She proposed a similar idea to execute here in Ann Arbor with colorful pianos set up across Ann Arbor.

The idea gained momentum and through the Initiative’s Projects in Partnership (PiP) (*formerly Collaborative Projects) funding program, which supports large-scale projects that activate the campus and local community, and collaboration with the Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF), Community Keys was born.

From May 1-June 21 current U-M students and graduates will decoratively paint three pianos presented throughout Ann Arbor at the Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor Farmers Market and the U-M Shapiro Library. On June 21, the pianos will appear at Top of the Park as a finale for a Make Music Day community concert.

“I am eager to see the school community unified by such a unique experience,” Gray said. “The power of music is universal!”

All U-M undergraduate and graduate students across all U-M campuses were invited to submit design ideas for Community Keys.

Selected piano artwork designs came from first year U-M Biochemistry student Vivien Wang, first year Earth & Environmental Science student Avery Jura, and a team of undergraduate student members of the Michigan Sport Business Conference (MSBC).

“The mission of the U-M Arts Initiative is to support our faculty and students in making big, bold, and beautiful ideas come to life. Ashley Gray’s Community Keys not only invites everyone—on campus and off—to enjoy and even to make music, it sends a vital message about how art brings us together as a community,” notes Mark Clague, interim director of the Arts Initiative. “That the grand finale of the whole project will come together at this year’s Ann Arbor Summer Festival couldn’t be more perfect.” 

A2SF champions performing arts, outdoor entertainment, and community spirit. In addition to a nearly four-week festival each June that attracts a diverse audience of over 80,000 people and offers over 200 concerts, art exhibitions, kids activities, spectacle, and film screenings, A2SF presents compelling experiences throughout the year on the campus of the University of Michigan and throughout Washtenaw County.The mission of A2SF is to present a world-class celebration of arts and entertainment that enriches the cultural, economic, and social vitality of the region. A2SF was founded as a partnership between the University of Michigan and the City of Ann Arbor and produced its first season in 1984. For more information on all events, please visit A2SF.ORG.