Painted Pianos to bring together community for art, music

Richland studio owner seeking 88 ‘key’ partners for project

Painted pianos transformed into public works of art and gathering places have begun popping up in Richland with more planned around the Tri-Cities.

The grass-roots arts project, spearheaded by Cynthia Vaughn, owner of Richland’s Magnolia Music Studios and director of Opera on the Vine, aims to bring together music and art through the indoor and outdoor art installation project.

“A big part of this is spontaneous music-making. I want to get music out of the concert hall,” she said.

The first piano was installed inside the Landing Bistro & Lounge in Richland where restaurant owner and artist Margaret Click is working on finishing painting.

The second one is inside Richland Life Care Center where it will be transformed by artist Deana Paulson.

The first outdoor piano was installed outside Kagen’s Coffee and Crepes at the Uptown in Richland and will be painted by Cameron Milton. Academy of Children’s Theatre also will host another outdoor piano in its outdoor classroom.

Although all the pianos currently are in Richland, Vaughn said she hopes future pianos will make their way to Kennewick, Pasco and West Richland.

Vaughn helps to find the donated pianos and plays matchmaker between the location or business and the artist.

“I feel an obligation to match the piano with the right place and the right artist,” she said.

All the artists are paid.

“As a professional performer, I feel an obligation to pay creatives for their creative work, so there will be money collected to pay the artists for their work. It could be enough money to cover art supplies or could go up to $400,” she said.

She said once the pianos are installed and finished, she hopes they will become a place where musicians and music students can come together for recitals or impromptu concerts.

Vaughn said the project was inspired by similar projects across the country, including one in Fort Collins, Colorado, where she used to live.

“I was familiar with the concept but the way this catalyzed here was that I was friends and colleagues with Margaret … and she mentioned to me in passing a couple of months ago, ‘I would really love to put a piano in the restaurant, but I have a lot of other expenses and that’s just not going to happen right now,’” Vaughn said.

Vaughn said she kept thinking about Click’s comment.

“The next day I happened to look online and saw all these pictures from pianos in Fort Collins in Colorado, because I have a lot of friends there and they started popping up in my Facebook feed,” Vaughn said.

She told Click she would buy her the piano, but she that would need to paint it.

“I started explaining to her this idea of painted pianos and it fit in exactly with what she wanted to do,” Vaughn said.

It’s already gaining attention inside the restaurant.

“Last night I had people come in and start playing it. People think it’s really cool,” Click said.

Vaughn said finding the pianos is proving to be the easiest part of the project.

“I found out that people were desperate to give pianos away. I bought one for $100,” she said.

Since then, she has fielded many requests from people wanting to give away their instruments. Help-U Move in Pasco became the official piano mover and agreed to move the pianos for a flat rate.

“Which, thank God, because the first piano is a full upright super heavy piano and they brought it up the fire escape. It took two hours and 15 minutes,” Vaughn said.

Randy Hansen Piano Services in Kennewick agreed to provide piano tuning services for a discounted rate.

“It’s such an interesting project that is attracting the attention of people all over the Tri-Cities,” she said.

Vaughn hopes in the future to be able to install the pianos in public places. Although she hasn’t approached the cities yet, it’s a conversation she is willing to have.

“I want to show them that this is successful first, instead of this being just a concept on paper. I know that conversation will happen,” she said.

Vaughn has already filed the paperwork to be incorporated as a nonprofit and can now accept donations.

“I had people convince me that I needed to do that because there has to be absolute fiscal responsibility. Right now I have so many people who are wanting to donate but I didn’t have an avenue to do that yet,” she said.

Vaughn is seeking 88 key partners (that’s the number of keys on a piano) to support the project, either by donating a piano, time, money, hosting a piano, becoming a commissioned artist, or one of the performers.

“I want every single penny to go into this project. There is zero admin charge. I am doing this as a labor of love and because it’s fun,” Vaughn said.

For more information, find the Tri-Cities Painted Pianos Project on Facebook. The group’s Facebook page has a link to sign up to be a “key” supporter.

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