By Rei Ramos ’15
August marks a very musical month for the streets of Rochester, thanks to a community arts project led by a UR undergrad. In 11 different locations around the city, pianos have been placed in parks and public spaces as part of an outdoor music installation led by Marissa Balonon-Rosen ’14. The project, Pianos for Peace, works to provide the public with access to the arts and serves as an outlet for Balonon-Rosen to promote ideas of nonviolence within the community.
A Rochester native, Balonon-Rosen was able to take piano lessons through the Rochester City School District at a young age, an opportunity that was not available to many. As such, she was also familiar with the issues plaguing her local community. “I was raised in Rochester and really experienced many of the issues that it has had with violence,” she explains. Now a dual degree student enrolled at both Eastman and the River Campus, she hopes to use this arts project as a vehicle to send a “message of peace” through music and community values. The pianos, which were all donated, were painted and decorated with different messages and interpretations of peace by local youth and artists.
Balonon-Rosen drew inspiration from similar outdoor piano installations that she found while abroad in Paris. From this initial idea, she was also able to incorporate aspects of her dual degree to provide the foundations for this project. Having found great value in music and the arts as a piano major at Eastman, she was likewise driven by a desire to promote nonviolence, as evidenced by her pursuit of Urban Youth Studies – a major that she created through a mix of classes in anthropology, psychology, education, and religion among others.
The project was made possible through the collaborative efforts of multiple local organizations, such as the University of Rochester, the Eastman School of Music, the
Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, and the Rochester City School District – all organizations that Balonon-Rosen has worked with or experienced first-hand. When asked about the workload required to spearhead this project, she was quick to acknowledge its difficulty. “It took a lot of coordination,” she admits; charged with acquiring the pianos via donation, enlisting artists to paint them, as well as connecting with community members to find viable spaces for the installations, Balonon-Rosen had to spend a considerable amount of time and effort to make her plan into a reality. The installation series will continue until the end of August when the pianos will be moved to the Ghandi Institute for Nonviolence as a continuing community fixture to promote peace.
Balonon-Rosen believes that this project offers a positive vehicle of expression to the community. “For me, I see music as a way of bringing strangers together – bringing neighbors together – in a way that nothing else really can,” she explains. With this, the inclusion of dropboxes for suggestions with each piano gives the public the opportunity to reflect on how to better promote peace within the community. “Sometimes people have the idea, but don’t have the platform to share it,” explains Balonon-Rosen. For her, this project is all about starting a dialogue within the community in order to open up the idea for peace to both neighbors and strangers alike.
This story is part of the Summer Plans Series, a collection of stories about how undergrads at the University of Rochester are spending their summer. Know of someone doing something cool over break? Email The Buzz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell us all about it!