Your holiday shopping may be a little more musical if a plan to place public pianos outside downtown Sarasota businesses comes together in time for the Christmas strolling season.
With the city commission approving a six-month trial period earlier this week, plans are quickly moving ahead for the purchase, decoration and placement of up to six spinet pianos outside downtown establishments that would be available for anyone passing by to play during business hours.
"It's been moving at mach speed," said Jim Shirley, executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, which is overseeing the project. "Our goal is to have at least four on the street before the end of the holiday season."
Public pianos have been successfully placed in other cities internationally since since British artist Luke Jerram created his first "Play Me, I'm Yours" installation in 2008.
"It's been very successful all over the world — Europe, Asia, South America — in fact, almost everywhere except Sarasota," says former City Commissioner Ken Shelin, who proposed a similar concept several years ago but couldn't get it off the ground.
Under the current plan, sponsors will donate $1,500 to cover the cost of adding wheels and a dehumidifier to each piano, as well as having a local artist colorfully paint the exterior. Business "hosts" will volunteer to handle the pianos, wheeling them to public outdoor spaces when their establishments open in the morning, and storing them inside overnight.
Shirley said he has already confirmed several business hosts and located pianos available at a reasonable price.
The idea was reinitiated by Rich Ridenour, an international concert pianist, and his wife, Stacy, who works in development at the Sarasota Opera, after they moved to Sarasota earlier this year from Jacksonville, where they had spearheaded a similar effort. They met with Shirley and Shelin several weeks ago and the group subsequently gathered information to bring to the commission for permission.
Though the vote was not unanimous — Commissioner Willie Shaw expressed concerns about the pianos creating a nuisance and Commissioner Susan Chapman thought the idea was unoriginal — there was enough enthusiasm to warrant a pilot project.
Tentative plans call for an opening night celebration when the pianos are put in place, said Shirley, with a "play-around" and perhaps additional participation by local singers and dancers.
Anyone interested in sponsoring or hosting a piano or otherwise donating to the project (which remains nameless at the moment) can call the Alliance at 365-5118.