Joshua Holton knows the power of sharing music in public.
About 15 years ago, after getting offstage at a concert at Crowbar, he sat down to play a song at a public piano. Venue owner Tom DeGeorge heard him — and asked him to perform at his wedding.
“I played Foo Fighters as his wife walked down the aisle,” Holton said. “All of that came just from me playing at a public piano.”
Holton, a WMNF news reporter, went on to found Tampa Tunes. The nonprofit public charity is focused on promoting arts and culture. His goal for 2024 is to permanently install a dozen pianos across the city — one for each month of the year.
Each will be free for the public to use.
“We’re in talks with Stone Soup Company, Hotel Haya and the Straz as potential locations,” he said. “We would love to have one on Riverwalk, Tampa International Airport, Amalie Arena or the Tampa Convention Center.”
Holton was inspired by public piano installations in Atlanta, Canada and New York. He also researched similar local endeavors, like a 2015 public piano project in St. Petersburg and a 2009 effort in Ybor City.
“They wanted to have one to show that Ybor was an artistic hub and had a lot of vibrant artists and musicians in the community, because they were also having shootings back then,” he said.
“People need something positive and constructive to do to help them value their communities … I think if you give people something nice, they’re going to treasure it and take care of it.”
The first piano has already been installed at 1920 Ybor. On Saturday, a ribbon cutting christened the installation officially, and local artist Carlos Pons customized it with paint.
Next month, Tampa Tunes will bring at least one (maybe two) to Gasparilla Music Festival in partnership with Gasparilla Music Foundation’s Recycled Tunes nonprofit.
In a divided world, Holton is hoping the project can usher in some peace.
“I think that there’s been an American culture that is strongly tied to gathering around pianos or gathering around in a group and singing songs together,” he said. “And I just realized that we’ve been lacking that piece of ourselves for a while now.”
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How to find a Tampa Tunes public piano
The first Tampa Tunes piano is available to play at 1920 Ybor at 1920 Seventh Ave. in Ybor City. The next piano will be unveiled on Friday, Feb. 16, at the Gasparilla Music Festival.
Follow along with the organization’s progress at tinyurl.com/Tampa-Tunes or tampatunes.org. Business owners who want to host a piano at their space or sponsor the project can email email@example.com for more information.