One woman’s dream of giving music to everyone has become a reality on the streets of La Grande.
Jamie Jacobson has delivered four pianos to downtown for all to enjoy. And she hopes the community will rally behind her.
“I noticed (pianos) in other towns,” Jacobson recalled of where the original idea came from. “Tri-Cities has them. Then I went looking online and tons of places are doing this — pianos on sidewalks.”
Jacobson, who is a voice teacher at Eastern Oregon University and who owns her own private studio, Studio Della Bella Voce (meaning studio of beautiful voice), said her philosophy is to make music accessible to everyone.
She has literally done just that.
Four pianos — at U.S. Bank, Nature’s Pantry, Direct Music Source and Community Bank — are now set up in La Grande, but Jacobson’s dream won’t be complete until they are fully painted by local artists. The aim of the project, which is officially called the Painted Piano Project, is to encourage any musically inclined person to sit on the piano bench and play.
“Music makes people happy,” Jacobson said. “People just want to sing. And art has the flexibility where it’s OK if you’re not perfect. Art pushes boundaries.”
Jacobson said it was easy to get people to donate their pianos. In fact, she said, it was amazing to see how many people didn’t want their pianos.
If she wanted to add more pianos to the community, she doesn’t have to worry about getting one donated.
It’s the upkeep that will be more difficult.
A piano tuner has been hired and will take care of the pianos, Jacobson said, and she’s hoping people in the community who want this project to succeed will be willing to donate money toward the pianos’ maintenance.
The process of deciding where to place the pianos has also been a challenge. Jacobson went in front of the La Grande Arts Commission and then had to propose the idea to the La Grande City Council to request permission to put a piano at Max Square and at the Skate Park.
The councilors were supportive of her project, but said in order for them to approve it, they must first see an exact rendering of what the artist will paint on each piano. Jacobson is still working on that.
She said the city had been approached previously with a project very similar to the Painted Piano Project. There was no money to pay for it, though, and it didn’t go further than that. Jacobson was willing to do all the legwork to get the project off the ground, but she’s hoping people will come forward now and join the effort.
“I need someone to watch over a piano, or all of them,” Jacobson said. “Cover it when there’s a storm. I hope there are people who are willing to help finance this. I hope this becomes a community project.”
Right now, the pianos are mostly under a covering so they’re protected from the elements. In October, all the pianos will be taken inside.
So far, the banks have agreed to pay the cost of upkeep for the pianos out of their budgets.
U.S. Bank Manager Stacey Candlish said she was behind this project from the beginning.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s important to have an art presence in the community. I was approached last year with this vision and was completely supportive.”
Candlish said since the piano was brought in on Aug. 30, she has seen people playing it.
“We’re hoping the artist will paint the piano within 30 days,” she said. “It’s so exciting. This is going to be really positive.”
She said she’s hoping to hold recitals at the bank with the piano. She also mentioned the bank’s staff will bring the piano in when the weather gets bad.
Jacobson is personally hoping to bring groups to the pianos and hold concerts on the sidewalks, then have anyone who wants to join in do so.
“Art is important to a community,” Jacobson said. “It’s been proven how beneficial art and music is for people. It makes them happy (and) improves brain function. Whether you’re artistic or just an observer, people get joy from listening to music.”
She also said it will surprise people to find out who has musical talent. She mentioned Shawn Mangum, who works at Edward Jones on Adams Avenue, sat down at one of the pianos last week and started playing.
“I had no idea he could play,” she said. “He’s my financial adviser.”
She said that’s why the arts are vital to a community. It brings people together.
“People from all different backgrounds, political organizations and religions can gather around a piano and enjoy it,” Jacobson said. “They could be enemies, but for a period of time, they could love the same thing. Music is an equalizer. It doesn’t know socioeconomics. It has no boundaries.”
And to add to that, she said, when people hear a piano playing when they are walking down the sidewalk, they will be curious and stop and listen to the music. She’s already seen it happen since the pianos were set up downtown.
At Nature’s Pantry, Jacobson showed The Observer the piano inside the grocery store. She sat down at the piano and was joined by one of her own students, Mary Kellogg. Together, the two played for the customers at the store.
Blake Bars, the manager of the store, stood nearby to listen to the two play.
“The arts and music are so important for our children and the community,” Bars said. “It’s a fun way to bring awareness. Jamie has done her due diligence on putting this on. We’ll be scheduling performers to play, and we’ll have kids perform here too. We’re excited to see where it goes.”
Jacobson said besides the financial support and the “piano buddies,” who would take care of the pianos during bad weather, she’s looking to get people to adopt or sponsor a piano to cover the cost of maintenance.
She’s also looking for artists who can come up with a rendering for the art to be painted on the pianos, which would need to be approved by the business or the city, depending on its location. The artists will be paid for their time and support, with a cap of $300.
There is a need to sponsor the artists as well, but Jacobson said she has money enough through a local grant to pay for two artists right now.
“I have a love for people having access to music,” she said. “I don’t know how far this will go. It is my hope there is music hidden in this community and now people have access to share it.”
To help support the project, contact Jacobson at email@example.com or 541-910-1102.