Piano as public art in Linden Hills

On a hot, sunny summer afternoon, the sounds of tinkling ivories wafted throughout the intersection of 43rd & Upton in Linden Hills.

Passersby were understandably surprised to hear it. Though 43rd & Upton features vibrant street life, one doesn’t expect to be treated to a piano serenade while strolling down a city sidewalk.

But folks will have ample opportunity to enjoy the sounds of the 43rd & Upton piano throughout the summer, as Linden Hills is the only neighborhood in Minneapolis featuring a public-use Keys 4/4 Kids charitable piano.

The sky-blue piano — adorned with a string art painting by local artist Renee Larson — is located right in front of Famous Dave’s and can be played from about 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day through Labor Day, weather permitting. Workers from neighboring businesses, including Dave’s, Linden Hills Florist and Linden Hills Dentistry, have volunteered to make sure the piano gets tarped up at night and when it rains.

The Linden Hills Business Association is renting the piano for a few hundred dollars from Keys 4/4 Kids, a St. Paul-based nonprofit devoted to making arts education affordable for youngsters.

This is the first year Keys 4/4 Kids is putting public art pianos in the Twin Cities. About 20 public pianos were recently installed throughout St. Paul, but Linden Hills is the only neighborhood in Minneapolis taking part in the Pianos on Parade program.

Keys 4/4 Kids uses funds from Pianos on Parade to subsidize music lessons for Twin Cities kids that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

Linden Hills Business Association member Bryce Hamilton was inspired to try and get a piano in the neighborhood after he observed a similar program on the streets of Lancester, Pa. last summer. He contacted Keys 4/4 Kids and was able to arrange for a refurbished, art-adorned and in-tune piano to be placed smack dab at the main intersection of his neighborhood.

“I just thought something like this would be wonderful for the Minneapolis community,” Hamilton said as Fulton resident Dawn Allen tickled the ivories and a crowd gathered to hear her play.

At one point, a young man in the midst of a stroll decided to stop and take in the music for a few minutes. Though he resisted the overtures of neighbors encouraging him to play a tune or two, he promised to return another time with his saxophonist daughter for a duet performance.

Hamilton was beaming.

“That’s exactly the sort of thing we hope happens all summer long,” he said of the prospective father-daughter collaboration.

For more information about Keys 4/4 Kids, including a schedule of Twin Cities events, check out the non-profit’s website at keys44kids.com.