Seventeen-year-old CJ Andrews has a vision for the Railyard. It involves artist-embellished pianos that anyone can come up to and tickle.
“I’ve been playing piano since I was 4 years old, been taking lessons classically, so piano is my biggest passion,” he says.
Andrews got the idea when he stumbled across a similar setup in Denver a couple of summers back.
“They had about nine or 11 street pianos downtown and I thought it was an amazing idea,” he says. “I went and played and made some money busking down there and I just thought it’d be the coolest thing if we had them here in Santa Fe.”
Other cities like Philly, Austin and London have successfully pulled off similar endeavors.
Zach Taylor, program director at the MASTERS Program charter high school is overlooking the student-led initiative, along with Story of Place Institute’s Ashley Nielsen. Last Friday, the team gathered at Warehouse 21 to iron out project details.
“The students came up with the project, designed, researched and refined it to bring certain vibrancy to the Railyard,” Taylor says.
Nielsen points out the effort spawns from Story of Places’ Convergence Project—a school partnership program that engages seventh through 12th graders in culture, civic engagement and community development.
Choosing the Railyard as a setting instead of say the Plaza, she explains, was deliberate.
“The reason why this project got started,” Nielsen says, “is because when Tierra Encantada [Charter High] moved in, there were a lot of people that were upset there were going to be a lot of teens hanging around, and what we found was that students didn’t feel very welcome in the area and the Railyard is meant to be the family room of Santa Fe—that is in one of the plans.”
Sandra Brice, director of events and marketing for the Railyard Community Corporation agrees that the project is well suited for the space.
“The notion is that you get a different experience when you visit the Railyard,” Brice says. “We love the idea that it’s a youth project that’s got a lot of energy, which is an example that not all of our projects have to be presentations by professional artists.”
Like all Railyard Art Project initiatives, the four pianos set to invade the space next month will be temporary (never forget, “Yard Dog”).
Nielsen says a survey of 700 young people is Santa Fe showed that half of them had not visited the Railyard in the last three months.
The group of students behind the piano project has withered down from seven to three. “It’s a hefty project,” Andrews says. Still, he hopes to secure “as many pianos as possible” to bathe the gathering space in music.
Storm Nelson, also 17, recently joined his enterprise.
“I just thought it would be a cool project,” Nelson says. “I also saw the ones in Denver and they made everybody happy that was around them. People were smiling and there was live music everywhere to brighten the mood…it’s been really dull here,” he continues, alluding to the lack of local extracurricular activity options.
Sapphire Yowell completes the trifecta. She as well is enthusiastic to what the public art project can deliver.
“We need more music around town,” she says. “And if there’s a free piano sitting somewhere, of course somebody’s gonna to play it, so I thought it was a great idea.”
Yowell too is bound by the limits Santa Fe imposes on its youth.
“We can hang out at the Chavez Center, but that costs money. There’s not really anything that’s free that you can do that will not lead to trouble.”
Andrews sees the move as a love letter to the community and a call to action.
“I have the same struggle as every teenager in Santa Fe—there’s nothing really to do,” he reflects. “I hope that this is kind of one more thing that we can choose to do and I hope that it’ll spark other people to come up with other things that we [teens] can do.”
The team plans on rolling out the pianos on May 9 and welcomes proposals from artists. Those interested can submit their concepts to: firstname.lastname@example.org by April 25.
Ultimately, Andrews hopes the project inspires an influx of young musicians.
“In Santa Fe—for being such an artsy town—there’s very little music and very little inspiration to do anything besides, you know, go sit around the mall and cause trouble,” he says, pausing. “I love this place. Many people, especially around my age, just wanna leave because there’s nothing for them here and I would love to change that because I really love our community.”