Update Nov. 8, 2016: While most of the piano installations were removed in October, Dinger's piano has been retained in a sheltered spot adjacent to the downtown Boston Macy's store.
When Suffolk University Professor Jenni Dinger learned about a public art project that places decoratively painted pianos in the urban environment, she immediately flashed back to a book she read a year ago.
“It gave me the inspiration I needed,” says Dinger, referencing The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo. “There were parts of the book that talked about how some of Michelangelo’s well-known pieces were first put on display to people in the community.”
Following a path similar to that of the famous Italian Renaissance sculptor and painter, Dinger submitted a sample of her creative work to the Celebrity Series of Boston, which is organizing the latest local incarnation of “Play Me, I’m Yours.” British artist Luke Jerram originated the public art project in 2008, and it has toured internationally ever since. This will be the second Boston-area installation.
Dinger soon received the good news that she would be one of 60 artists selected. Pianos will be placed throughout Boston and Cambridge, and everyone is welcome to sit down at the works of art and play a tune.
Dinger, who teaches management and entrepreneurship in the Sawyer Business School, worked on the project over the summer. “It has taken me about 70 hours to sand, prime, paint, and decorate my piano,” she says.
Value of community
The 60 artists are working on their pianos side by side at the Innovation and Design Building in Boston’s Seaport District.
“This project has given me the chance to get to know other people in the art community, which fits quite well with what I do in the classroom, because entrepreneurship is a very community-driven field,” says Dinger.
Significance for student entrepreneurs
“Our students are interning at various start-ups in the Boston community and pursuing their own business ventures—everything from creating social media apps to clothing lines to vegan food products. By my being more engaged in the community, I can help them become more successful in the community.”
One of Dinger’s areas of expertise focuses on community dynamics and entrepreneurial decision-making. “My research studies the role of community and how community membership impacts the entrepreneur, and that is usually in a positive way,” she says. “Naturally, I’m interested in continuing to strengthen my ties in the community any way I can.”
“The human zoo”
Dinger’s concept for her piano design came from a noted English zoologist Desmond Morris, who said: “The city is not a concrete jungle; it is a human zoo.”
Dinger decided to paint a blue sky atop her piano and bright green leaves on the sides and the back “so that it would really stand apart from the black-and-white images of the so-called ‘human zoo,’” she says.
She then photographed Boston-area people of all ages and from all walks of life and added these photos around the lower part of the piano. The Morris quote is painted on the instrument’s side.
The pianos will be featured throughout Boston and Cambridge from Sept. 23 through Oct. 10. Dinger does not yet know where her piano will be placed but appreciates that it will help build community wherever it goes.
“The goal of this project is to get people to stop, look, and interact with others walking by,” she says. “Bringing people together in the community by showcasing pianos and having people play them is what makes everything so rewarding.”