Fargo artist plans encore after vandals destroy public piano project

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Ten days after a piano was installed as part of a public art project in Fargo, North Dakota, it was pushed over and ruined.

“It will probably go to the dump, because it doesn’t work, it doesn’t play,” Susanne Williams, the executive director at the Uptown Gallery and the person behind the Fargo-Moorhead Piano Project, told InForum.

Williams started the Piano Project in an effort to give people "the opportunity to spontaneously interact with public art," according to the Fargo-Moorhead Piano Project website. The idea behind the project is to save unwanted pianos from being destroyed, have local artists paint them and then place them in public places for people to play.

Williams painted the first piano herself, decorating it with playful kittens. After it was installed, people stopped by to play it for over a week before it was apparently knocked over and walked on. Soon after uprighting the piano, the tarp Williams had put over it to protect it from the rain had been pulled off, causing the keys to get stuck. Now, she says, it's ruined.

"Anytime there’s some sort of unique item that people recognize, for whatever reason it does attract the attention of people and oftentimes it’s people who are intoxicated, and they choose to damage items that are easily accessible to them,” Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel told InForum.

"We shouldn't have to expect vandalism of public art," Williams told WDAY.

The vandalism isn't stopping Williams from continuing the art project. A new piano is already in the works to replace the one that was vandalized, and a second piano has already been installed. She also plans to install additional pianos throughout the Fargo-Moorhead area.

All the pianos that are being used in the project are donated, the Piano Project's website says. The project got off the ground initially with a $2,000 award from The Arts Partnership in Fargo-Moorhead. Now, Williams hopes to raise at least $1,000 more using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to add more pianos and replace or repair any that are vandalized.

Williams says if the Kickstarter campaign raises enough money, additional funds will go towards paying the artists who painted the instruments.

The FM Piano Project was modeled after similar public art projects around the country. The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport had a public piano in baggage claim for people to play.

"Play me, I'm yours," a touring street piano project that installs artist-decorated pianos throughout cities, has reached over 6 million people internationally since 2008. Pianos from this project were vandalized in New York City in 2010.

Vettel told InForum that public art tends to draw negative attention and vandalism – when painted fiberglass bison statues first went up in the area a few years ago, for example, people also defaced those.

Other public arts projects in Minnesota have been vandalized or mistreated, too. Some of the Snoopy statues that were installed around the Twin Cities in 2000 were also vandalized.

A 2-year-old boy spotted a buck statue in a ditch earlier this month. The statue had been stolen from Bemidji Woolen Mills back in March.

A public art piece in Edina was also vandalized last fall.

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