Poppy Xander sat down at a piano in a public park in downtown Dallas, wearing sunglasses on a sunny Saturday. “I wrote this one with Jim Morrison,” she joked to the crowd of two dozen or so friends, fellow musicians and curious passers-by.
She delivered a poppy rendition of “Light My Fire” on one of three painted pianos in Dallas' Main Street Garden as a couple walking a dog stopped to listen and snap a few photos. Soon, a pair of joggers and a woman whose young daughter seemed intent on joining Xander on the piano wandered up. And why not: What were these vibrant, psychedelic pianos doing here?
The show marked the beginning of “Play On, Dallas,” a project by Dallas’ Office of Cultural Affairs and local artist Leigha Lugo, who painted the three pianos. Lugo invited Xander and professional pianists to kick things off, then offered the keys to anyone who wanted to play on Saturday. Since then, the pianos have been moved to three locations: Pegasus Plaza and the Dallas Farmers Market, both in downtown Dallas, and inside security at Dallas Love Field.
The pianos will reside there for the next two months, open for anyone to enjoy.
“This is for you,” Lugo told the crowd on Saturday morning. “Our dream is that these pianos are vehicles for you to share in your love of music with all of Dallas.”
The public pianos were inspired by Lugo's time living in Singapore, where she was chosen for the international project “Play Me, I’m Yours,” where pianos are painted and placed on street corners for passers-by to play. “It was so beautiful to see how people who had never even played before could now have access to this instrument,” Lugo says. “I loved what that brought to the community.”
Lugo decided to launch an almost identical mission when she settled in Dallas. Partnering with the Office of Cultural Affairs, Lugo painted three pianos in honor of the style of three artists featured on Dallas radio station KXT 91.7. Pegasus Plaza's painted piano is based on the attire worn by R&B artist Anderson .Paak for his Grammy Pro performance; the Farmers Market piano pays homage to the performance attire typically worn by Amelia Meath, one half of the electronic pop duo Sylvan Esso; and the piano now sitting at Love Field echoes the brightly colored style of the New Orleans-based funk band Tank and the Bangas — specifically, the attire they wore for their NPR Tiny Desk concert.
Brittany DeBose, a special projects coordinator with the Office of Cultural Affairs, says the partnership with Lugo was a no-brainer.
“It’s so special to be able to walk down your street and see someone playing the piano. You never really see that anywhere else, and we want Dallas to be a place where you can experience art you don’t get anywhere else.”
For people like Xander — who is an artist and a lifelong Dallas resident — "Play On, Dallas" goes beyond music. It's an equalizer, she says.
“It can bring people together,” Xander explains. “There’s nothing more powerful than providing access.”
The pianos at Pegasus Plaza, Love Field and the Dallas Farmers Market will be on display and available to play until early September. A pop-up show featuring local pianists and musicians takes place at the Farmers Market on Aug. 3.