This summer, senior Marissa Balonon-Rosen started a community arts project with the hope of advocating peace within the Rochester community. The project, aptly titled “Pianos for Peace,” involved installing 11 donated pianos throughout the city to provide the public with access to the arts and serve as an outlet to promote ideas of nonviolence.
Through coordination with the University, the Eastman School of Music, the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, and the Rochester City School District, Balonon-Rosen was able to acquire the tools and funds necessary to use this project as a vehicle for her “message of peace.”
”I see music as a way of bringing strangers together, bringing neighbors together in a way that nothing else really can,” Balonon-Rosen said.
Having been fortunate enough to have received formal piano lessons as a child, she wanted to be able to provide that same opportunity to local children, all while fostering better community relations through public music performance.
Throughout the summer, Balonon-Rosen, a dual-degree student at both Eastman and the River Campus, organized concerts and talks at the various piano locations, many of which were in public outdoor spaces.
“Sometimes people have the idea but don’t have the platform to share it,” she said.
For Balonon-Rosen, this project was all about starting a dialogue within the community to open up the idea of peace to both neighbors and strangers alike.
Alex Murray ’13 was one of the musical performers for Balonon-Rosen’s mini-concert series, performing an original set at Pulaski Park. He recalled his interactions with local community children as a highlight of his experience. Murray fully endorsed the project’s promotion of both musical and personal expression.
“I think it’d be a really great project to do anywhere,” Murray said. “I love music, and I love people, and I love bringing people together.”
While the pianos, each decorated with messages and images of peace, were available for public use for three full weeks towards the end of the summer season, they were eventually moved to the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence on South Plymouth Avenue. Arranged as a colorful circle of pianos, the new installation was dubbed the Piano Park for Peace.
A celebration at the Gandhi Institute on Sept. 7 commemorated the public park. In addition to members from the community, many who were involved with the original art installation project also attended. Likewise, University Vice President Paul Burgett and Rochester City Police Chief James Sheppard attended as speakers to expound upon the merits of nonviolence.
“What I liked most about this project is that it was interactive,” junior Alysha Alani said. “Since these pianos were in public, highly-trafficked areas, it encouraged people from different backgrounds to interact and fostered dialogue.”
Director of the Ghandi Institute Kit Miller thought that the project and subsequent exhibit featuring the pianos in one place was a true benefit to local neighborhoods.
“This project helped people to reimagine what’s possible in the community,” Miller said. “The tender loving care and response that the pianos received is for me an affirmation of the untapped beauty within the hearts of many people who live here, young and old.”
Now, Balonon-Rosen’s project is in the process of entering its next phase. The pianos will once again be relocated to various spaces throughout the greater Rochester area. Some of the decorated pianos have already been donated to businesses and locations that she identified as “youth and peace initiatives.”
This final relocation of the pianos will allow them to become public community fixtures.
“The idea is that we can keep the pianos in the community, promoting peace and providing the opportunity to play them,” Balonon-Rosen said.
This past weekend, a piano that was originally put on display at the Greater Rochester International Airport was sent to the Coffee Connection on Main Street, a business that provides employment for women recovering from substance addiction.
Other pianos that have been re-installed can be found on the second floor of Rochester’s Central Library and at the World of Inquiry School on University Avenue.
At these new and more permanent locations, they can serve as outlets of positive expression for children and adults alike in communities that may not have provided access to creative opportunities.
Overall, Balonon-Rosen is glad to hear that her project has been so well received by the community and beyond.
“Tons of people within Rochester have approached me and expressed how they think this is great for our community,” she said.
Balonon-Rosen also recalled receiving messages from people in other cities like Ithaca and Buffalo who were interested in spearheading similar projects.
According to Balonon-Rosen, she was more than happy to pass the idea and message along.
“We have this world class institution like Eastman, but we have so many neighborhoods in and outside of Rochester that don’t get these opportunities,” she said. “One of her biggest goals was to make art, music, and the concept of peace readily accessible to the public. And now that her pianos have found new homes, they can continue to do just that.”
Ramos is a member of the class of 2015.