Thanks to a local non-profit organization, visitors to Pittsburgh International Airport can practice their piano skills while they wait for bags or for their flight to board.
Free the Music Pittsburgh, a nonprofit group that places “gently used” pianos in public places for anyone to play, has planned to bring pianos to the airport since before the pandemic, which put a pause on the project. Now three hand-painted pianos grace the baggage claim and concourses at PIT – and they’re available for anyone to play.
Keny Marshall, the arts and culture manager at the airport, said the pianos will help create a sense of community and belonging at PIT.
“Art connects with people. The piano playing connects with people, and the airport is a good place of connection,” Marshall said. “Having the opportunity for people to open play the piano and learn to the play the piano is really important.”
Sewickley native Hudson Colletti founded Free the Music when he was 13 years old. The idea was sparked after a trip to Montreal Jazz Festival, when he saw that street corners were filled with old pianos that had been transformed by artwork and made available to the public to play. As a lover of music and a pianist himself, Colletti decided to take the idea with him back to Pittsburgh.
“I’m really excited for people to be able to spread their love of playing music, listening to music and just seeing the overall community it brings,” Colletti said.
Local Pittsburgh artist Scott Kowalski has been creating art for years, but this is the first time he’s brought his work to the airport. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)
Local artists take center stage
To help bring the donated pianos back to life, Colletti and his organization commission Pittsburgh artists to paint them. The artists swap their canvases for pianos, and Coletti gives them free rein to paint their designs.
Scott Kowalski and Jessica Brown, two of these artists, have been making art in the region for years, but have never had their work displayed at the airport until now. Kowalski, a Pittsburgh native, is thrilled to bring his artwork to PIT.
“People who come from all over the place can see that local Pittsburgh artists can be on an international stage and produce art that the world can appreciate,” Kowalski said.
Cue Perry, another artist who painted one of the pianos, calls his work “visual caffeine” – a stimulant to help travelers navigate the busy, ever-changing airport environment. He shares in Kowalski’s excitement.
“People are coming in and out of here often,” Perry said. “The parking lots were full today. I could be part of somebody’s memory.”
Jessica Brown’s hand-painted piano is on display in Concourse D (Photo by Beth Hollerich).