Pianos pop up around Penn and University City


The University City Project placed eight artistic pianos around the neighborhood


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Several local artists lend their talent toward decorating eight pianos as part of Heart and Soul: The University City Public Piano Project. Piano design themes vary from ragtime to other-worldly to crochet.

Photo by Maegan Cadet


If you have ever had an urge to play Bach at dusk on Locust Walk, your chance has arrived.

Thanks to Heart & Soul: The University City Public Piano Project, eight upright pianos are scattered around West Philadelphia — including Penn’s campus — for anyone’s entertainment.

Meant to enhance public space, the project is designed to “give the public their own opportunity to be creative … and experience art in their own way,” according to Mark Christman, communications manager for the University City District. “Heart & Soul is a pop-up event. It’s meant to surprise people.”

The pianos made their debut in University City on June 7 and will be on display until June 17.

Originally in poor condition, the pianos were renovated and left at the disposal of several local artists, Christman said. For the Public Piano Project, each of the instruments has been transformed into a creative masterpiece, some only recognizable as pianos by their ebony and ivory keys.

Artist Justin Duerr created an extraterrestrial piano — located on 36th and Walnut streets — which he said “came from a galaxy located light years below the tunnels of 30th Street station.” Duerr explained that he saw the piano, named Anaesthasia Emeralda Lucian, as “a being that comes from so far underground that [it’s] not from the planet.”

“I don’t have an ideal before I start something. You just kind of start then go until it’s done,” he said. “That piano specifically has some kind of persona. And in the course of working on it, it kind of had some voice that was talking to me about what it was about.”

Jason Kernevich and Dustin Summers, collectively known as the Heads of State, paid homage to ragtime composer Scott Joplin through their piano on 40th and Locust. “We considered a few options for how to root this piano with some sort of history,” Kernevich wrote in an email. “We felt a lot of kinship towards the aesthetic of the ragtime era so we … imagined an alternate history where Joplin opened a music store in St. Louis at the turn of the 20th century.”

Melissa Maddoni Haims, also a piano artist, described her piano on 33rd and Market streets as the “most huggable.” Haims’ knit and crochet piano has elements of cotton, wool and plastic bags. “When people get to my piano, I want them just to hug it,” Haims said. “It’s a very sweet instrument ­— like your grandmother, provided your grandmother is sweet.”

College graduate student Lenny Kolstad believes the project’s interactive nature will attract “groups of friends who want to come play, families, instead of just one person.”

Wharton doctoral student Jessica Jeffers agreed. “It creates interaction between people.”

“Literally anyone can sit down and have a conversation,” Duerr said. “I’m glad that it’s going on in Philly.”

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