Get ready to hear the occasional Chopin étude — and a whole lot of "Chopsticks" — while you're doing your downtown shopping.
The streets of Sarasota will be a little more musical starting Friday afternoon, when the public pianos of Sarasota Keys make their colorful debut during a free concert and celebration at Five Points Park.
Six pianists and the seven "Legacy Artists" who customized six spinet pianos with original art will gather with community members, business hosts and funding sponsors at 5 p.m. today, the kickoff of a six-month trial period for the public music/art project, approved by city commissioners in early December.
According to Jim Shirley of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota, which is overseeing the project, the pianists will play several short pieces arranged for six keyboards by concert pianist Rich Ridenour before the instruments are delivered to business host locations on Main Street and Palm and Pineapples Avenues.
"We'll have a short concert and then we'll encourage people to do a walk-around," said Shirley, who added that most of the locations were planning opening receptions.
The business hosts are responsible for placing the pianos on the sidewalks in front of their establishments each morning and sheltering them in the evening. The pianos will be available for anyone — polished professional or rank amateur — to play.
Similar public pianos have been installed in cities around the world since British artist Luke Jerran originated the idea with his "Play Me, I'm Yours" installation in 2008. Though proposed for Sarasota several years ago by former City Commissioner Ken Shelin, the idea did not gain traction until last fall when Ridenour moved here from Jacksonville, where he spearheaded a similar project.
Shirley agreed the Alliance would oversee the project and collaborated with Ridenour and Shelin to find hosts, sponsors and artists and prepare a proposal for the city commission, which agreed to a pilot project through the end of May.
"It all came together very quickly," said Shirley, "but that's not surprising to me. Sometimes when you hit a good project at the right time for the whole community, everyone helps make it happen."
Pianos were delivered to the participating artists — Richard Capes, Jack Dowd, Lori Loveberry George, Gale Fulton Ross, Steven Strenk and Tim Jaeger and Cassia Kite (who collaborated on one piano) — at the end of December. Artists were given the liberty to create their own designs, which range from the abstract (Ross) to portraits of iconic musicians (Dowd).
Pianists who will play at the kickoff include Ridenour, Lee Dougherty Ross, Jesse Martins, Michelle Kasanofsky, Becky Heintz and Peter Madpak.