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Windsor public art project is seeking artists to paint pianos

Contributing groups

Windsor Performing Arts Academy holds a summer camp, as well as their upcoming fundraiser the Windsor Talent Show, streaming online at 7 p.m., March 19. windsorperformingarts.net.

Move Over Mozart provides music lessons in piano, guitar and ukulele, and well as art lessons through the schools. mozartpianolearning.com.

Art and Soul School of Creative and Performing ARTS teaches art, music and dance and has locations in Windsor and Santa Rosa. artandsoulmusicstudios.com.

A new public art project planned for Windsor aims to puncture the pandemic doldrums with splashes of color and the sound of music.

The Painted Piano project, a collaboration between three women business owners, is seeking Windsor-based artists to turn fully playable, donated pianos into beautiful works of art to be displayed publicly later this year in the town’s public, outdoor spaces.

The pianos will each follow a theme, with the first completed one inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s famous “The Starry Night” painting. The blue and yellow piano is the artistic collaboration among three artists: Lauren Kushins of Art and Soul School of Creative and Performing Arts; her daughter, Ella Kushins; and Ella’s friend and schoolmate, Issa Mcininch Rosko. Ella Kushins and Mcininch Rosko are freshmen at Windsor High School who met over Zoom last fall and, according to Lauren Kushins, are both “beautiful artists” and “good students.”

While that piano is the only one currently painted, the women organizers, which includes Lauren Kushins; Heather Cullen, owner of Windsor Performing Arts Academy; and Stefanie Hirayama, proprietor of Move Over Mozart, have been busy gathering donated pianos and moving and storing them, while putting out the call for artists.

The women have received assistance from Windsor’s Park and Recreation Facilities manager, Olivia Lemen. They’ve made presentations before the Public Art Advisory Commission as well as the Windsor Town Council. They’ve received unanimous support with both. The public arts project is slated to open May 1 and continue until the end of October, when the pianos will be auctioned off.

The pianos are meant for interaction and to be played. Even non-piano players are invited to sit down and noodle around a little. Hand sanitizer will be available at each piano or nearby. The organizers plan to create an online map, reminiscent of the Art Trail, to guide people to the pianos. On opening day, piano players will be playing at each stop along the trail.

Organizers currently have six additional unpainted pianos with the goal of having 12 to share with the community. The pianos are being stored at Staübli’s on the Windsor Town Green.

The project was originally the brainchild of Cullen, who then took it to Hirayama and Kushins. They liked the idea of a community project so close to their hearts, and one that promises to banish the pandemic blues, at least for a time.

“First and foremost, is our collaboration,” said Hirayama, 41. They understand they will meet obstacles and challenges along the way, she said, citing the fires and pandemic that tested their creativity to keep their businesses operational, and to add a time-intensive project to the mix.

The pianos will go into high traffic areas of the town, including the Town Green, Keiser Community Park, Pat Elsbree Skate Park, Wilson Ranch Soccer Park and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as a number of other proposed places. Permissions vary when the pianos are not on Windsor town property.

The three women continue to seek corporate sponsors, as well as putting out the call for artists. They have four sponsors, including the Exchange Bank, Ben Lehr Insurance Co., Microvu and Evan Zelig Law Offices.

Windsor artists will receive sole consideration until March 31. If there aren’t enough artists for all the pianos, the artists’ call will extend to the broader Sonoma County after that date. Artists will have to convey their vision in the application. No controversial or divisive projects will be accepted. The theme must be uplifting.

Anyone wishing to donate a piano or to be a sponsor can call Cullen at 707-838-3341.

Hirayama’s Move Over Mozart teaches music throughout Sonoma County and has for 32 years. It was founded by Lynn Fleck, who ran the program until her retirement two years ago, when Hirayama took over as director. The organization partners with 50 Sonoma County schools, offering affordable and accessible music classes. They appeal to a broad demographic, and had more than 1,100 students last year. This year, because of pandemic-related challenges, their numbers include 375 students.

Before the pandemic, they taught at each school campus where a piano or keyboard would be available to the students for group lessons. Now, the students are learning music from home and Move Over Mozart has added guitar and ukulele, as well as art classes. The program provides robust arts kits, using an array of art media. In addition to the group youth lessons, they provide private lessons to youth and adults.

The Windsor Performing Arts Academy, run by Cullen, 54, teaches students to act, sing, dance, as well as to make sets and manage the stage. They put on musicals at Windsor schools, with no cost to the school beyond offering the space. The pandemic has created a challenge, leading to a number of shows being canceled. Cullen switched the talent show to an online format and is still accepting videos for the show until March 12. Details are available online.

“Heather and I count on each other to implement and complete our projects,” Hirayama said. They had seen other temporary art installations and knew of other projects in the genre. Cullen’s inspiration was a painted piano in Petaluma.

“As a resident of Windsor, we need an uplift, so I’m happy to just bring it (the project),” said Hirayama.

Kushins ponders on the project and recognizes that the three women have both the musical and performing connection, as well as the strong businesswomen connections during challenging times.

“We’re all moms and we’re all women in business and we want to recognize all the women business owners who are persevering at this time,” said Kushins. “We send a shoutout to the hardworking moms who are running their own businesses and parents, too, at this time. We hear you and we support you.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Lynn Fleck’s name.

Contributing groups

Windsor Performing Arts Academy holds a summer camp, as well as their upcoming fundraiser the Windsor Talent Show, streaming online at 7 p.m., March 19. windsorperformingarts.net.

Move Over Mozart provides music lessons in piano, guitar and ukulele, and well as art lessons through the schools. mozartpianolearning.com.

Art and Soul School of Creative and Performing ARTS teaches art, music and dance and has locations in Windsor and Santa Rosa. artandsoulmusicstudios.com.

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