From June 4-24, a total of 51 SFH Pianos were installed, and come fall they will be donated to schools in need.
The unique program was founded in 2006 by Juilliard School alumni and opera singers Monica Yunus and Camille Zamora to establish a resource that would dismantle barriers to arts access.
To date they have installed close to 500 pianos in parks and, eventually, schools.
“We have an open application for schools to apply and receive a SFH Piano, and each year an open application for volunteer artists to participate,” said Lester Vrtiak, SFH director of Artist Engagement.
Perched atop the hill of Yellowstone Park in Forest Hills is the “Owls” piano, designed by artist Chelsea Marotta, a native of Long Island. It features 587 owls.
“I ran a webcomic for four years featuring similar owl characters, and envisioned a piano full of their eyes,” she said. “A built-in audience lying in wait.”
Last year was Marotta’s first opportunity to design and paint a SFH piano.
“It was covered in friendly monsters, spent June 2017 in Montefiore Square in Hamilton Heights, and is currently at PS 154 in Queens,” she said.
The experience gave the reality television developer a revelation. “If you love art, you can just go ahead and be an artist,” she said.
“It's not every day that you run across a piano in the wild, and nothing brings people together quite like music,” Marotta added. “It doesn't matter what musical skill level you have, since everyone can have fun with the pianos, even if you just know one song. It’s great to live in a city where art is given a voice and opportunities like these exist.”
Each piano comes with “a customized raincoat” to protect it from the elements that is put on by volunteers. Forest Hills resident Doug Boltson signed up.
“It’s gorgeous to sit down and play outdoors,” he said. “There are trees, where the sun is shining through the leaves, and it’s such a great integration with nature.
“The piano is a solo instrument, but the purpose is to build community, where people come by, have a sing-along, or play together,” he added. “It’s a thrill to have this in my own neighborhood, and I hope to see a piano here next year.”
Raised in a small town an hour from Toronto, Lexy Ho-Tai, a multimedia artist with experience in fashion design, illustration, and fine art, has her second piano near the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
Her first piano, “Let’s Play!,” was located at the Greenbelt Nature Center in Staten Island and permanently relocated to a Fort Greene elementary school. The new piano is entitled “Left Brain, Right Brain.”
“The different sides of the brain serve as a metaphor, and it is beautiful how everybody navigates the world differently,” she said. “This piano is a celebration of the incredible human brain. It can also serve as a conversation piece for piano viewers: which side of the brain are you most like? How do you see the world?”
Ho-Tai's creative touch stems from childhood.
“I've always loved making things, whether it's scribbling on the side of a bathtub or making clothes for my dolls out of tissue paper,” she said. “A lot of kids love making art, but it somehow gets lost as we get older. For me, I never seemed to lose that love.”