Luke Jerram created the contemporary art exhibit "Play Me, I'm Yours," to bring people together — and so far, the overall response has been positive.
The exhibit entails digging up a handful of pianos, asking local artists to paint them, and distributing them throughout a city for people to play. Since it began in 2008, Jerram has placed more than 500 pianos in 22 cities worldwide.
He's heard of two weddings that resulted because people started getting to know each other through the pianos — one between two journalists who met while reporting on the exhibit, and one between two strangers who just showed up at the same piano one day. The journalists invited Jerram to their ceremony. The other couple invited the piano.
Active exhibitions of "Play Me, I'm Yours" include London, Paris and now Salt Lake City.
The idea for the project came from Jerram's local launderette in England.
"I saw the same people there each weekend and yet no one talked to one another," Jerram said. He suddenly realized how many people within a city must spend time regularly with one another without speaking. "I thought if there was a piano, it could provide a conversation starter. … It provides a big blank canvas for people to express themselves."
His first commission for the project was in Birmingham, where Jerram distributed 15 pianos across the city for anybody to play. Local artists decorated each piano and added the invitation "Play Me, I'm Yours." He was invited to bring the exhibit to Salt Lake City by the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and accepted.
"I'm really excited," said Adam Price, executive director of the museum. "This has been about a year to a year and a half in the making. … There were a lot of moving parts (to coordinate)."
Ten upright pianos, donated by Daynes Music Co., were transported to their new homes of the next few weeks on Thursday after a media event outside the museum of contemporary art on West Temple St. The pianos will be open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Outside of these hours, they will be covered but left where they stand. The exhibit is scheduled to run June 15 to 30. After the allotted 15 days, they will be given to community groups, Jerram said.
Paul Cardall and several young piano ambassadors from the Mundi Project attended the media event to help launch the project. Two of the Mundi students, 12-year-old Sarah Shipp and 24-year-old Josh Wright, played a two-part piano concerto by Felix Mendelssohn. Cardall performed one of his own pieces.
"I'm thrilled to be here," he said. "I know there will be lots of people playing these pianos."
The museum has been trying to reach outside its walls by putting exhibits into the community. Two years ago, its exhibit was an 18-hole miniature golf course designed by Utah and national artists. Last year, its outreach exhibit involved lawn gnomes. Then Price heard about "Play Me, I'm Yours" from one of the museum curators, and the rest is history.
The piano is one instrument that doesn't require any technical knowledge to make a good sound, Jerram said. Even people who have never had a lesson in their lives can have fun with it.
Price thought it would be a good fit because Utah has the highest piano ownership in the nation per capita, he said, which means a lot of piano players.
"We're trying to get the community engaged in places they're already living," Price said. "We want people to want to learn more about contemporary art."
Participants are invited to share photos and stories about their experience with "Play Me, I'm Yours" online at www.streetpianos.com/SaltLakeCity2012. A map with the locations of each piano in Salt Lake City is also available on the site.