Cows, racecars … and now pianos?

March 18, 2008
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Ever since the Chicago cows appeared in 1999, city marketers and arts folks have been trying to find attention-getting gimmicks to boost awareness of their towns’ coolness. Many of these—including our very own artist-decorated race cars—have been reactive rather than innovative.

In Birmingham, England, though, something interesting is happening on the streets right now—spontaneous music. Seemingly out of nowhere, 15 pianos have appeared and are being played by anyone who feels like taking a seat on their benches.

The project—according to a story at—is the brainchild of Luke Jerram, an artist previously responsible for putting an orchestra in hot air balloons for a morning serenade.

To my ears, the “Play Me, I’m Your’s” project (which ends on Easter) is a truly great idea—one that should open our minds to our own, unique possibilities here in Indy.

Your thoughts?
  • I was working for City of Chicago in the city-sponsored tourist organization called Downtown Thursday Night. It sounded like a ridiculous idea but impacted millions of dollars and helped fund the Millenium Park, which is totally awesome in its awesomeness.

    I actually contracted to deliver blank white cows to some of the artists. Imagine the looks I got driving around lost in the suburbs with a big white fiberglass cow in the back of my S10.

    Any effort, even if it is reactive, is better than nothing.
  • I like the idea of public pianos. I imagine they would get pretty banged up, so if I owned a piano, I wouldn't want to lend mine for the project. Also, they would have to be placed in places that were protected from the weather.

    But I like the idea.

    As for boosting awareness of our town's coolness...hmm. I think coolness comes from something other than decorations and props.

    But (laughing) I am probably the least cool individual I know, so I am probably not the person to ask about coolness communication at the community level.

    I would have to percolate on this some more.

    Hope Baugh
  • I actually lived in England for awhile, and it was common to have 'steel drum' groups playing 'live' near Birmingham shopping centres. Having public piano's or percussion instruments as a promotion would be fantastic! It would be a great way to entice sales/lessons at local music stores and spark energetic activity. Local dining establishments would likely benefit from spontaneous attractions also.
  • Millennium Park is a vastly over-rated attraction. It's an example of what I call the self-reinforcing nature of big cities. Namely, it gets extra kudos just for being in downtown Chicago and being hyper-expensive. (It was, among other things, a financial and construction boondoggle far worse than the Central Library expansion in Indy). If this were located in a city like Indy, it wouldn't get half the cred and press it's gotten in Chicago. (There are some parts I really like, however, such as the trellis overtop the lawn for the band shell).

    Also, Chicago did not invent the cows exhibit. They copied it from a European city, somewhere in Switzerland, I believe, but won't swear to it. The fact that everyone believes this was a Chicago thing is yet another example of what I'm talking about.
  • Urbanophile,
    You are correct. The cows thing was done in Zurich a year earlier.
    I don't think we would have seen as many American variations if it wasn't for the Chicago exhibition.
  • Hold on a second Urbanophile! If you think for one second that Chicago is the kind of town that tolerates corruption, over charges, and boondogglery allow me to put that to idea to rest right now...

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