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Durango Street Pianos coming back for summer

The Durango Street Pianos project will begin its summer season Friday. (Courtesy of Zac Robinson)
First instrument goes out Friday downtown

Start warming up those fingers – it’s time to tickle some ivories.

Friday’s First Friday event downtown will not only celebrate the arts, it will also signal the season kickoff of the annual Durango Street Pianos project, with the first piano being set out in front of Maria’s Bookshop, 960 Main Ave.

Zac Robinson, the project’s maestro, used to live in Salt Lake City, where street pianos would spring up from time to time. Not a piano player initially, his interest was piqued, and he began to learn.

“I got used to having pianos available,” he said. “I noticed the street pianos and would always make a mental note and set aside time to go play, and that was really what prompted me to start learning piano and I just really liked that idea. I like the outdoors, I like playing music and making those cool little community spaces.”

For more information

For more information about Durango Street Pianos or to donate, visit www.durangostreetpianos.com.

Robinson moved to Durango in July 2020 – during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was a tough time for everyone.

“I think that explains why a year or so later, I was looking for ways to connect and bring people together once that was OK,” he said.

The Durango Street Pianos project will begin its summer season Friday. (Courtesy of Zac Robinson)

The project, now in its third year, began with a chance meeting with The Butterfly Arts Collective one Sunday at the Smiley Building, he said. He joined one of the group’s meetings where he shared his idea about the street pianos. He ultimately got in touch with Durango’s Creative District, and as part of its Art Brigade a couple of years ago got funding for the piano project. He also got help last year and was awarded a Durango Creates grant this year as well. Robinson said the money allows him to be able to pay local artists to paint the pianos he gets for the project.

The pianos are usually brought out in May or June and then are removed from sidewalks in October or November. They stay out the whole time, coming equipped with tarps to protect them from rain. There is a second piano an artist is currently working on that is set to go out on the patio at Durango Public Library, Robinson said, adding that there are talks to add more around town.

The ultimate in upcycling, Robinson said people offer him their old pianos once or twice a week. And when the instruments have served their purpose, he still finds use for them.

“I had one piano that lasted two summers at Maria’s Bookshop before it finally wrapped up its end of life after a couple of summers outside,” he said. “I did save that one. After that I took that piano and gutted all the strings and the big cast iron harp and all the big heavy pieces inside, I kept the painted box and was able to slide my electric keyboard in there. It’s in my living room. ... I’ve got another one that was out in front of EsoTerra and looking to maybe turn that into a standing desk here soon and see what other kind of uses I could find for these once the piano parts have fully died.”

Durango Street Pianos has been a welcome addition to the town, Robinson said. The feedback he’s gotten has been positive – and the people who sit down to play are wide-ranging, he said, which is the point.

“There’s just so many different ways that this little space or this resource can be used or taken in by the community,” he said. “It can be someone’s mid-afternoon solo classical mind-clearing time, or it can be like 1 a.m. after the Ranch and playing country songs and being with a group of excited singers, and anything in between. It’s neat to see tourists belt out a bunch of boogie-woogie blues songs on there ... It can be a whole party scene or it can just be a cozy little relaxation moment. And I like being able to share that with folks.”

The Durango Street Pianos project will begin its summer season Friday. (Courtesy of Zac Robinson)

And Robinson still uses the sidewalk pianos for his own enjoyment as well, just like he did back in Salt lake City.

“I use it all the time,” he said. “As soon as this piano goes out, my evening plans will turn into, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll go grab a bite to eat then we’ll swing by and play the piano in the shade.’”


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