Playin’ Around South Orange is back, bringing art and music to the streets

Photo Courtesy of SOPAC
An artist works on her piano, soon to be placed on the street for the public to enjoy.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Playin’ Around South Orange, supported in part by Valley National Bank, kicks off for the fifth year on Saturday, Aug. 26, at noon, bringing live music and art in the form of hand-painted pianos and outdoor performances to five separate South Orange locations. The SOPAC-presented project runs from Aug. 26 through Oct. 1. Other community supporters of the effort include the village of South Orange, South Orange Village Center Alliance and Seton Hall University.

Kick-off festivities will include live performances by professional musicians at each of the four downtown piano locations from noon to 1 p.m. on Aug. 26. Many of the artists will also be in attendance at their respective pianos to meet the public and answer any questions about their designs. With simultaneous mini-concerts happening all over town, the day will be music and art-inspired. The colorful and eye-catching pianos will be found at Spiotta Park, Irvington and W. Fairview avenues, the Village Service Center on South Orange Avenue, and the Sloan Street Gazebo. Programmed by SOVCA, Wednesday night jam sessions at the Sloan Street Gazebo will make the area around the South Orange Transit Station come alive with music weekly from 5 to 7 p.m. from Aug. 30 through Sept. 27.

Each year, local artists complete a Playin’ Around South Orange application for the honor of transforming an old piano into a contemporary piece of art. On average each artist donates up to 30-plus hours per piano to bring this musical event to life. Paint and supplies are supplied by the artists or are donated by local businesses.

Artists this year include Bill Billec, who created “South Orange Submarine” at Spiotta Park; Elizabeth, Alexa and Allie Sibio, who created “Peacock” Baby Grand at Village Service Center on South Orange Avenue; Irene Pomianowski and Gwendolyn “Arri” Jackson, who created “Eye-Full Piano” at the Sloan Street Gazebo; and Sandy Koturba with JESPY House clients created “Zentangle” at Irvington and West Fairview avenues. Lawrence Ciarallo painted the piano located at the Bishop Dougherty University Center on the Seton Hall University campus.

Pianos are donated by various individuals from throughout the community. SOPAC Community Engagement Director Linda Beard keeps her eyes and ears open for possible donations all year long, sometimes asking people to “hold on to” their instruments for several months due to lack of storage space until the summer comes around again. Her goal for the program is “to interrupt the day-to-day routine and allow people the opportunity to interact with different genres of art in a unique way.”

“It’s about bringing what we do inside the (SOPAC) building outside to the community,” Beard said.

Weather is an obvious challenge for the instruments. SOPAC staff try to watch the forecast while the pianos are out, but occasionally a compassionate citizen will take notice of an impending storm and spontaneously pull a SOPAC-supplied blue tarp over the artwork, preserving it for a few more improvisational concerts.

“That’s exactly the kind of behavior we are looking to ignite,” Beard said. “We want the community to take ownership of this experience and realize that these instruments are not ‘ours’; they belong to South Orange.”

More information on the pianos is available on the SOPAC website at www.sopacnow.org/community/sopianos/.

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