The pianos are coming.
Inspired by similar projects in London and Sao Paulo, Ybor City business owners are plotting an interactive art installation of 10 upright pianos placed on streets throughout the community. The public is encouraged to play the pianos, which will be on display 24/7 from Nov. 14 through the New Year. The first instruments were delivered on Thursday to Ybor's Gallery Live, where local artists will decorate them before they hit the streets.
The GaYbor District Coalition, which unofficially governs Ybor City's gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses, is sponsoring the exhibition. GaYbor president Carrie West and co-secretary Mark Bias, came up with Pianos in Ybor: Please Play Me after hearing of the 30 pianos installed earlier this year in London's parks, public squares, train stations and markets.
Bias describes Pianos in Ybor "public performance art." The goal is to promote the area as family-friendly and safe, said Bias, who with West co-owns MC Film Festival, a gay-themed video and gift shop on North 15th Street.
In choosing locations for the pianos, GaYbor specified that they must be on private property, members of the organization and covered by a storefront roof for protection from rain. There will be four pianos in the Centro Ybor complex and one each outside Hillsborough Community College, Streetcar Charlie's Bar and Grille, New York New York Pizza, La France a vintage clothing store, Mermaid's Slipper gift shop and the Ritz Ybor.
The Ybor City Development Corporation is on board.
"I think it's a great thing. It really fits in with our vision of Ybor, as we're going through our vision plan and becoming more retail- and arts-oriented," said YCDC manager Vince Pardo. "We're more than just bars down here."
GaYbor bought the instruments from Dave's Piano Showroom in Brandon using money from fundraisers. The pianos were discounted at $298 apiece, including tuning and delivery. They range from 30 to 90 years old and would normally sell for $600 to $700 each, store owner Dave Germino said. GaYbor's total budget for the project is about $3,500, which includes advertising costs.
Already, there's buzz of piano-themed events brewing. Tampa Bay's gay and lesbian choirs, Una Voce and Crescendo, are planning to hold concerts around the pianos. And three Ybor City nightclubs have expressed interest in organizing a piano crawl.
Ten local artists will decorate the instruments. Mathieu Stanoch, owner and executive director of Gallery Live, plans to adorn his piano with puzzles he bought at a thrift store. Stanoch is excited for the district to be part of something with an international reputation, although Pianos in Ybor has no affiliation with Play Me I'm Yours.
"We're talking about places like Sao Paulo, London, and now we have Ybor City," Stanoch said.
To prevent theft, organizers plan to tie down each piano with cables. To prevent vandalism, they're counting on the citizens of Ybor.
"I think that what's going to happen is the whole community is going to watch them, which is really cool," Bias said. "Even the homeless people are going to be watching, because they become property of Ybor City and everybody that lives in here."
Pardo, however, acknowledged the potential for damage.
"It's not a Steinway that's going to be given back to a music store or something like that. That's the reality of what we're dealing with," Pardo said.
On Nov. 7, the decorated pianos will be exhibited at Gallery Live. In January, GaYbor will auction them off as a charity fundraiser.