Painted pianos raise a pretty penny

Instruments decorated by artists stationed around city to benefit technology program for the blind

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



Piano locations

Java House Courtyard, 210 W. Evergreen Boulevard, by artist Natalie Andrzejeski

Grand Central Courtyard, 2520 Columbia House Boulevard, by artist Chris Weiss.

Riverview Tower Lobby, 900 Washington St., by artist Natalie Andrzejeski.

Turtle Place Park, 700 Main St., by artists Kelly Keigwin and Sam Mackenzie.

Fort Vancouver Library, 901 C St., by artists Toni Partington and Michele Venclik.

Waterfront Walk by Beaches, 1919 South Access Road, by artist Julia Rosenstein.

Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., by artists Sam Mackenzie and Kelly Keigwin.

Hilton Hotel Lobby, 301 W. Sixth St., by artist Olinka Broadfoot.

Torque Coffee, 501 Columbia St., by artists at the Open House Family Shelter and Anni Becker.

City Hall entry, 415 W. Sixth St., by artist Jadia Ward.

ON THE WEB: For a map of piano locations go to Keys to the City

Don't be shy if you notice an artistically decorated piano or two along the streets of Vancouver over the next several days.

Those behind the strange invasion of strategically placed instruments want you to feel free to tickle the ivories -- whether you know how to play or not.

Vancouver's School of Piano Technology for the Blind is seeding 10 pianos at gathering spots around town as part of its "Keys to the City" event, which runs through Aug. 26. The goals are to foster community interest in art and music, and a to do little nonprofit fundraising.

"It's an interactive art project," said Jeff Lann, the school's executive director. "It's been really fun. Really, we just want people to come and play."

Lann came across the idea for the project after a former student told him of a similar

display in Everett. And he discovered that other painted piano projects have been held in cities across the world.

"We thought, 'Vancouver: We have the piano school. We have great artists. It's a great city.' We figured this would be a perfect event to hold here," Lann said.

The school, which opened in 1949, is the only post-secondary institution in the world that trains blind and visually impaired students for careers as piano tuners and technicians. Students from all over the United States have participated in the two-year program, which only takes six applicants at a time.

People donated the pianos to the school, and students repaired and tuned them for the project.

The pianos were then turned over to local artists to paint, which was an interesting challenge, said Natalie Andrzejeski, who worked on two of them.

"This was my first attempt at doing a large piece like this -- the piano is very far from my usual scope of work," said Andrzejeski, who usually paints on canvass with acrylic.

The hardest part was coming up with artistic concepts for the pianos, but she settled on a stained-glass look for her first project with a 100-year-old piano, and a "flowing hair look" for the second one, she said.

Her favorite of the two is the stained glass one, she added.

"It's my most elaborate, hardest piece I've ever done," Andrzejeski said. "It took over 60 hours to finish."

Lann found seven local businesses to sponsor the pianos, netting about $7,000 for the school.

One of the pieces made an early appearance at the Art in the Heart festival on Aug. 3-4, and it was a big hit, he said.

"We put it out and it was amazing," Lann said. "People were playing constantly. We had everything from 6-year-olds to virtuosos trying it out."

Half of the pianos will be placed outside and the other half will be at indoor locations over the course of the day Friday. If it rains, the outdoor ones will be protected by covers, but so far the forecast doesn't look threatening.

"We picked this 10-day period because there's usually very little rain," Lann said.

When the event is finished, the pianos will be donated to seven local non-profits, he added.

If people enjoy the event, they can donate to the school or vote for their favorite piano online at