Bringing Art and Music to the Streets of South Orange

September 9, 2015

Bob McKay_Bill Billec
Bob McKay and artist Bill Billec at one of the pianos on Playin’ Around South Orange’s kickoff on Aug. 29. Courtesy of SOPAC


Wandering around downtown South Orange just got more jazzy thanks to the return of SOPAC’s Playin’ Around South Orange.

Meghan Jambor

All are invited to sit down and play one of the six hand-painted pianos placed by the nonprofit arts organization throughout town. Weekly Wednesday night piano jams are held 5 to 7 p.m. through Oct. 6 at the Sloan Street Gazebo.

The goal of the project is to “interrupt the humdrum day-to-day and allow people the opportunity to interact with different genres of art in a unique way,” according Linda Beard, SOPAC’s director of community engagement.

The pianos, donated by community members and painted by artists, are in Cameron Park, The Gateway, Spiotta Park, and at the intersection of Irvington and West Fairview avenues, in addition to the Sloan Street Gazebo.

Artist Marie Glynn’s Starry Night inspired piano. Courtesy of SOPAC

Wednesday night piano jams at the Gazebo are timed to enliven the commute of the thousands of area residents arriving at the nearby train station, said Dee Bilia, director of external relations at SOPAC.

“It’s very busy at that spot,” Bilia said. “A lot of people stop and linger, some sit and have coffee, others drift in and out of the scene, drawn in by the music that fills the streets.”

A common tune played on the pianos is the childhood staple Clair de Lune, she said.

“So many people have learned to play the piano,” Bilia said. “This project is just a fun way to bring together the visual and performing arts in a way that brings the community together.”

Local artists apply to transform the donated pianos into works of art, donating about 30 hours each to bring the musical event to life. Artists include Marie Glynn, Bill Bellec, Larry Ciarallo, Lisa Hirkaler and members of Seton Hall University Peer Advisors.

Artist Larry Ciarallo's Dr. John piano. Courtesy of SOPAC
Artist Larry Ciarallo’s Dr. John piano. Courtesy of SOPAC

“South Orange is a very art-centric town and becoming more so because SOPAC is here in the middle of it,” Bilia said. “The community is filled with people who love the visual, performing and fine arts, and is unique in that the community is so in tune with what’s happening in the arts.”

SOPAC,  a state-of-the-art performing arts center, is also home to the Herb and Milly Iris Art Gallery, which is host to three art shows per year.

All six pianos will auctioned at Bids are accepted through Oct. 4.

Does your town host a project like this? Tell us about it in the comments. 

For more information, visit SOPAC’s website at