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Arts / Culture

Sidewalk Serenade: Piano Project Hits Downtown Sarasota

You’re probably familiar with the sounds of downtown Sarasota -- traffic, birds chirping by Sarasota Bay. Now there’s a new sound in the mix: pianos.

Earlier this month, the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County debuted the Sarasota Keys Piano Project.

It's a collection of six upright pianos placed on downtown sidewalks for anyone to play. The group got the idea after hearing about street music initiatives in cities like London and Cincinnati; they thought this would be a fun way to promote the arts.

"Since this is Sarasota and we love our arts, we weren’t just going to put the pianos out there. We approached several of our really top local artists and asked them to paint one," says Jim Shirley, executive director. "So you’re going to be getting the visual arts and the performing arts at the same time."

The pianos have attracted pedestrians for photo ops, and occasionally someone will play "Chopsticks." But when Kevin Lo sat down at the circus-themed piano outside Bohemian Bliss Boutique, people stopped to listen.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu8tLZUUJRw&feature=youtu.be

"I work downtown, and I was just wandering around looking at the pianos because I’d heard that they were out here for people to play. I guess sometimes my wife gets annoyed that I play in the house, so I thought I’d play outside," said Lo, 36, who wowed passersby with several songs.

And yes, he took lessons.

"My parents forced me to learn. Mostly my mom, when I was little. I really hated it, and she told me I would thank her when I was older," Lo says. "The lessons are worth it, so my kids are going to be forced to learn, too."

The arts group's investment was also worth it, says Jim Shirley.

"It’s about a $10,000 cost for us, but we think it’s going to be a great investment in Sarasota," Shirley says.

The pianos will be downtown until at least the end of May -- so keep playing, Kevin Lo!

Eventually, Shirley's group hopes to auction off the instruments as a fundraiser for the next public art project.