Sometimes communities get together and come up with really innovative ideas to set themselves apart as an artistic enclave. You know those places, they exude talent and creativity on every street, with artsy signage and lighting, outdoor musical venues, and thriving theatrical and art districts providing shows that sell out as soon as the tickets go on sale.
One endeavor that Sarasota started a few years back has been ringing a solidified chord with locals and tourists alike. The Sarasota Keys Project has proven to be a clever way to represent Sarasota’s artistic flair, but beyond that, it is inspiring neighboring communities to start similar endeavors in their towns, and is even changing the lives of those who sit down to tickle the ivory.
The Sarasota Keys Project was brought to Sarasota as a joint collaboration between the city and the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. Beginning in 2014, six artists were asked to choose the theme of a particular spinet piano to be placed around the downtown area in front of businesses, who would be charged with pushing the piano onto sidewalks in the morning, then housing them inside at the close of business. The idea was to not only have an interesting artistic display meant to pique the curiosity of those walking by, but to also spur those interested into sitting down to play a tune. By all accounts, the program has been a complete success, adding a distinct “Sarasota” flavor to the downtown landscape and sweetening the experience for visitors who enjoy the melodic notes that are filling the air.
The Sarasota Keys Project garnered national attention last year when Donald Gould, a local homeless man, sat down at one of the pianos and began playing “Come Sail Away,” by Styx, and the video of that went viral. The strange juxtaposition of this down-and-out person playing a beautiful ballad on an outdoor piano, in front of an upscale restaurant, caught the attention of the world. What we learned about Gould was that he had lost his wife, and then lost his way in life, ending up homeless and on the streets of Sarasota. There was an outpouring of well-wishes and donations after the video appeared, which helped to transform Gould’s life. Gould was able to get off of the streets and to also reconnect with a son he had not seen in years. And to cap off a year full of change, he was also asked to play the National Anthem before an NFL game this past September. The idea that music resonates within all of us and is the great equalizer came alive with the Gould story and brought kudos to the Sarasota Keys Project.
The Sarasota Keys Project is beginning its third season in Downtown Sarasota. This year, four pianos have been placed in front of the Woman’s Exchange, Clasico Café’ and Bar, Louies Modern, and Sarasota Herald Tribune. Be sure to come out and enjoy this fun and inclusive project. You may see school groups there, local rock and roll legends, or even a homeless man demonstrating that appearance is a minor thing and that music is the major connector among all of us.
For more information about the Sarasota Keys project, please visit www.sarasotaarts.org/community/sarasotakeys/artists.
photos from Sarasota Keys Facebook page