Vancouver gets a tune-up

'Keys to the City' benefits school, creates joyful noise

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you suddenly encountered an intricately decorated piano, or five, along the sidewalks of Vancouver this week, Jeff Lann said he hopes you felt free to sit down and play.

Lann, executive director of the School of Piano Technology for the Blind, put them there for exactly that reason.

Piano locations

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

• Grand Central Courtyard, 2520 Columbia House Blvd., 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.

• Vancouver Community 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 Vancouver Washington 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.

"We're hoping a lot of people from the Vancouver Wine & Jazz Festival will give them a try," Lann said. "We did plan to have them out for that on purpose."

Students at the school and local artists paired up to decorate the pianos as part of the "Keys to the City" event. The pianos were placed around town — five indoors and five outdoors — on Aug. 16. All but one will remain out until the morning of Aug. 27.

"People have been playing them quite a bit," Lann said. "It really met our expectations so far to bring music to the streets."

Two of the pianos are directly across the street from the Wine & Jazz Festival, which runs through Aug. 26. One is inside the Hilton Vancouver Washington lobby, 301 W. Sixth St., and another is outside at the entrance to City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St.

As he was passing by the City Hall piano, decorated by artist Jadia Ward, Dezy Walls said he felt compelled to stop. Walls, who calls himself "The Pianobike Kid," can sometimes be spotted around Vancouver driving an odd contraption in which he's combined a bicycle with a piano.

"I love everything like that," Walls said. "It's great. I know (the painted pianos) are out for a good cause, but it's also good for the city. The art is lovely, and it's a great display of outdoor art and culture."

So far, the most popular pianos seem to be the ones that were placed outside, Lann said.

"You can tell that the more public pianos are getting more use," he said. "Next year, we may do more of those."

The one in the Hilton lobby, decorated by artist Olinka Broadfoot, has had sporadic use, but the hotel staff has enjoyed listening when a few brave souls have played, said Krystina Westcott and Kari Van Gorden, who work at the front desk.

"Our staff has played a couple songs on it to lighten the mood at night," Westcott said. "And we've had two or three people check them out during our conventions."

Van Gorden, who often works the graveyard shift, said she's been too shy to play it herself, but she's encouraged guests to try it out if they seem interested.

"I'm always telling people, 'Go play me something,'" she said. "It's an attracting feature here. It's great entertainment."

If people from the Wine & Jazz Festival want to come to the lobby to play, they're more than welcome, Van Gorden added.

"We'd love to have them play over here — we'd love a little impromptu jazz concert," she said.

So far, through sponsors and donations, the school has raised about $8,000 from the event, Lann said.

Members of the public are welcome to donate to the school or vote for their favorite piano online at

The pianos were all donated to the school, and students tuned and repaired them as part of the project. Local artists then painted them for free.

When the event is over, the pianos will be donated to seven local nonprofit groups, Lann said.

"We had one person walk in after seeing them on the streets and donate $120 to the school," Lann said. "It's been a great fundraiser, but I think the biggest underlying factor of this is that it's just been plain fun."

So far, there's been only one bad part of the 10-day event. The bench from the piano decorated by artist Julia Rosenstein at Waterfront Walk by Beaches, 1919 South Access Road, was stolen.

"That's the only down side of the event — I don't know why somebody would do that," Lann said. "But otherwise people have been extraordinarily respectful and careful with the pianos."

Lann and Rosenstein said they hope the bench will be returned before the piano is removed Sunday. That's the only piano that won't remain out until Monday morning, Lann said.

Still, that drawback won't stop Lann from putting together the event again next year, he said.

"We'd love to do it again," Lann said. "We've had a lot of people comment how much they've enjoyed it."