To David Rauch, a public space with no creative human activity is about as appealing as an empty fuel tank to an astronaut.
The City of Edmonton urban planner in him sees a vacuum and wants to leap into action, fill the space with excitement and watch his city become just that much more active, interesting…cool!
In David’s case, this year it was pianos.
As if he isn’t already busy enough as a business analyst in Sustainable Development’s Urban Planning and Environment section, David walked through Sir Winston Churchill Square’s southeast corner this spring, saw ‘dead space’ and suddenly had that impulse to leap.
Now, David’s believes that if you can dream it, you should do it. So within a few short weeks on his own time, he marshaled lots of volunteer help from his Open Edmonton ‘techie’ friends and more than a dozen willing businesses and community organizations, and together they gave birth to #OpenPianoYEG.
#OpenPianoYEG rounds up donated upright pianos, decorates them in everything from candy apple red to close-to-psychedelic colour blasts, and leaves them right out there, in the open, in public spaces.
And then all kinds of people come and play them.
“You just know they’re a total success when you see a homeless guy sit down and play Let It Be for over two hours at a stretch,” he smiles.
“All types of people play all kinds of music,” he says, “children play the A-B-C song, mothers and sons play duets, friends play dueling pianos.
“We’ve had people play wonderful classical virtuosos, and an opera company singing around the piano.”
David’s motivation, as a recently-transplanted American, was to create a program that helps him learn what it’s like for citizens to deal with the City.
At first, it was a bit frustrating – for example, the City required public liability insurance but could not offer advice in accessing it online. A subsequent breakthrough came when he connected with Cheri Onushko, the city’s downtown community recreation coordinator, whom David says was ‘gung-ho’ and a huge help as a facilitator.
In the end, OpenPianoYEG had more than 80 offers from people wanting to donate old upright pianos. He had piano moves, paint jobs, piano tuning, tarpaulins and more donated as well.
“Expenses were only about $750, and they were taken care of by donors” he says.
David secured locations such as Sir Winston Churchill Square (near the Three Bananas Bistro), the CKUA building, Boyle Street Community
League and Alberta Avenue with the help of the Downtown and Boyle Street Community Leagues, CKUA and the Arts on the Ave organization.
In time, David plans to install a tiny, super-cheap Raspberry Pi computer inside the Churchill Square piano, hook it to wi-fi and upload music to the internet so anyone can enjoy what’s being played in real time. (That piano will then be called the PiAno.)
In the meantime, you can see some examples on YouTube. You can also check out the Twitter site: #OpenPianoYEG
The OpenPiano concept has been used in other cities, primarily in Europe.