In the Key of Davis: Find A Whimsical Piano To Play

1 is Decorated by Manetti Shrem Museum Staff

An individual in a green shirt plays the piano outside the Manetti Shrem museum.
The City of Davis piano program includes a whimsically painted piano in front of the UC Davis Jan Shrem and Maria Manetii Shrem Museum of Art. It was painted by museum staff. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • 6 public pianos dot the city.

The City of Davis relaunched In the Key of Davis this summer after a hiatus. The program provides six public pianos for recreational playing at the following community locations: Central Park, Davis Commons, Davis Food Co-Op, Hunt-Boyer Plaza, the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, UC Davis, and Mary L. Stevens Davis Branch Library. In the Key of Davis is supported by the City of Davis Arts & Cultural Affairs Program.

“The City recognizes the social and emotional health benefits of making and listening to live music,” said Mayor Gloria Partida. “The pianos help create a positive space to bring the community together.”

This year, a new piano debuted at Central Park that was designed by Birch Lane’s sixth grade teacher Amy George’s students, who were inspired during an in-depth study of Yosemite National Park. 

The piano at the Manetti Shrem Museum at UC Davis is on the Events Plaza in front of the museum. The blue upright piano was painted by members of the museum's visitor services staff: Ilsa Bauer, Allie Bennett, Mario Rodriguez, Maev Dunning, Madeline Dei Rossi, Allie Suarez and Ana Panaligan. The beautiful, vibrant design was inspired by Tunji Adenyi-Jones’ work “Blue Dancer” from the current exhibition Young, Gifted and Black: The Lumpkin-Boccuzzi Family Collection of Contemporary Art on view at the museum.

In the Key of Davis brings delight and surprise to Davis public spaces by providing used and vibrantly painted pianos for everyone to play. The pianos offer a space for improvisational gatherings, spontaneous connections and celebrations of music.

Laura Shapiro, organizer of the In the Key of Davis program and mother to Isabelle and Hailey Shapiro, who launched the program in 2015, elaborated on the inspiration behind the program. 

“The Davis program was started after my family traveled to Seattle and Vancouver and saw public pianos in those towns,” Shapiro said. “My daughters both play the piano and really enjoyed playing those pianos. It was so fun to surprisingly happen upon the pianos on our vacation. Our daughters thought Davis would be a perfect town to have a similar program because it values art and it is dry all summer so we wouldn’t have to worry about the pianos getting rained on like in the cities we visited. When we got back, they wrote a proposal to the city and the city approved the program and agreed to help sponsor it.” 

The Shapiro Family has been coordinating the program since its inception and working with the City each year. Once launched, the pianos spurred a flurry of media and community praise and have been commended as one the most engaging and accessible projects in Davis by community members and the media.

The community’s response to the pianos has been very positive. Shapiro mentioned some of the positive effects that access to the public pianos has made. 

“Little kids getting exposure to a piano, people being able to practice when they don’t have access to their own piano, people being able to show off musical ability and impromptu jam sessions,” Shapiro said. “Kids have a sense of pride in creating something for the community. Some of the pianos have been painted by local artists or people associated with the Manetti Shrem museum so there is always a local connection.”

(This story was compiled from various sources, including the City of Davis)

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