A collection of local artists — both professionals and students — painted nine pianos, which were placed across Newton’s village centers, said Gloria Gavris, board chair of Newton Community Pride.
“It’s wonderful to see these pianos transformed by the creativity of these artists and then put on location,” said Gavris. “To see the joy that the music brings to the people and children and piano players and listeners, it’s really quite nice.”
Gavris said Newton Community Pride shifted to more visual arts rather than performance arts during the pandemic, so bringing back the previously successful Artful Piano Project this year seemed like a good option.
“One of the key elements of our mission is to bring art directly to where people are as well as to create more pedestrian traffic for our small businesses that have been challenged during COVID-19,” Gavris said. “We thought this was a great opportunity to marry two parts of our mission.”
Newton Community Pride solicited local artists from the community in mid-July to paint the nine pianos over the course of six weeks.
The artwork on the pianos ranged from swimming jellyfish to googly-eyed monsters to swarms of butterflies, all of them unique to each artist.
Ocllo Mason, a Natick-based artist who took part in the project, painted a piano in Newton Centre titled “Crimson in Clover.”
Mason said her favorite part of the project was working with other artists.
“It can be isolating, painting alone in your studio and not having anyone to talk to,” Mason said. “It was just absolutely wonderful as an artist to have other people who are artsy and think that art is really fun and cool doing their own thing.”
Abby Zheng, a student artist and a senior at Newton South High School, painted the piano titled “Mountain Views” in Farlow Park in Newton Corner. Zheng said art has always been a way to express herself.
“My passion for art started when I was really young,” Zheng said, “mainly from my mom, who was an artist herself.”
Zheng said she had always wanted to express her art beyond the canvas itself, and the Newton Community Pride project was a perfect opportunity.
Before the Artful Piano Project, Zheng had also painted a door for Newton Community Pride’s “Newton Out Doors” public art initiative — “Corner Vending Machine” in Auburndale — and when they reached out to her about painting a piano, she said she was excited to do it again.
“I decided to approach this piano piece with something that is not the typical Euro-centric piece style such as Bob Ross, but something that is related back to my culture,” Zheng said.
Zheng said she enjoyed working with the other artists and having their insight and perspective.
“Because of the pandemic, a lot of the time, I confined myself to my bedroom to paint,” Zheng said. “And so having this opportunity to paint with other artists, I really saw how different artists view their pieces and how different images relate to different meanings.”
Mason said the artists were all supportive of each other.
“We would come and check on each other’s work and provide feedback and encouragement, and it was just wonderful,” she said.
As part of the Artful Piano Project, Newton Community Pride recruits “Piano Pal” volunteers in each village who cover up the pianos with tarps to protect against bad weather, clean them, and take care of them as needed.
Despite these efforts, some of the pianos did not hold up well in July’s harsh weather; humidity and rain caused some of the pianos’ keys and pedals to become stiff and unusable, Gavris said.
In the end, Gavris said, she hopes people enjoyed the artwork on some of the pianos even after they deteriorated.
“Playing music is one of the arts as well,” Mason said. “So two of the art communities are getting together and making beautiful things.”
Zheng said she appreciated the opportunity to showcase her artwork as a young artist.
“As an artist, it definitely makes me feel proud because my art is being showcased and admired,” Zheng said. “I think for a lot of high school artists, that’s an opportunity that’s very rare to come across.”
Sage Widder, a senior at Newton South High School and another student artist in the project, painted the piano entitled “Drifting” by Auburndale Library with colorful jellyfish. Widder said she valued this opportunity, especially as a young artist.
“I think oftentimes as high schoolers we get the message that art isn’t a real career or it’s not something we can really pursue or have success with,” Widder said. “I think this experience showed me that that isn’t necessarily true.”
If they are able to, Newton Community Pride hopes to bring back the Artful Piano Project next year so people can enjoy and play the pianos again.
“After the pandemic, more than any other time, I think people have become more acutely aware of the importance that arts and culture bring to residents,” Gavris said. “To hear spontaneous play, to see a pretty piece of artwork that you wouldn’t normally see going shopping or running errands, I think just brings joy to a morning or an afternoon.”
Isabelle Durso can be reached at email@example.com.