Athens Hab Makes Space for Public Art and Music

Pianos being painted for the “Play On, Athens!” project at Habitat ReStore East

It’s October in Athens and the pianos are turning bright colors around town.

That’s right, it’s not just the leaves that are brightening up! This fall, the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission, the Athens Area Arts Council, Athens Area Habitat for Humanity, and a team of local artists are collaborating on a really cool project called “Play On, Athens!” that will put full-sized, fully tuned pianos in public places for folks to play and enjoy.

Project leader Grace Huang says “Play On, Athens!” was inspired by similar projects in other cities. “The main idea was to create public art that’s interactive, and that could bring joy to all in our community,” says Huang, owner of Huang Piano Studio and an assistant professor of piano pedagogy at UGA. “This project seemed like a perfect blend of music and art that could be made accessible to everyone — anyone can play these pianos, and we want to give people more opportunities to make music or to listen.”

Throughout September, four local artists have been painting pianos at the Habitat ReStore on Barber Street which were donated by Chick Music, Vic Peel of Vic’s Vintage, and private donors. These will go on display in October at the Athens-Clarke County Library, the farmers’ market at Bishop Park, the Athens Community Council on Aging, and the Classic Center. “We expect to have them on display for at least a couple of months,” says Huang. “The one at the Council on Aging will eventually be moved inside permanently for folks to play there.”

The pianos have been quite the attraction at the Barber Street ReStore as local shoppers and music fans track the artists’ progress. “It’s been so much fun,” says local resident Allie Brodsky, “when I first saw [the pianos] they were all sanded down and I was like ‘What is going on?’ Then every few days I’d come by and watch them turn into works of art!”

Project coordinator Huang is hoping that there can be more phases to “Play On, Athens!” in the future. “We’d like to get high school students involved, working as a team with a teacher. If we can get sponsors and a few more donated pianos, maybe we can bring out a few more in the spring. It’s really just a matter of how much interest there is and how much fun people are having with it.”

Here at Habitat we predict a very cool fall with a high chance of ragtime!

Meet the artists who are painting the first round of “Play On, Athens!” pianos….

Kim Deakins

Kim Deakins earned her MFA from UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art and is currently the owner of Pink Goblin Tattoo in Athens. Botanical imagery is featured in much of her tattoo work, and in her vibrantly colored tropical-themed piano, reminiscent of the heyday of Cuban and Caribbean music in hotspots like Miami and New Orleans. You can find her art on Instagram by following @koreanhammer.

Darya Kalantari

Darya Kalantari is also a Lamar Dodd graduate and a tattoo artist, with Chico Lou’s in Athens. Her work ranges from the naturalistic to the whimsical and imaginative, and her work on the piano steers toward the latter, featuring a sunset above a silhouetted kingdom and a rocket ship cruising through the starry sky.

In addition to her small-scale tattoo work, Kalantari also works on the other end of the spectrum as a mural artist, so the large-scale format isn’t new to her although this is her first piano. “I always push myself to do something a little bit different,” says Kalantari, “but I always want to do what I really enjoy. I try to have the most fun with what I’m doing, because if I put the most passion into it, it’ll naturally come across and other people will enjoy it, too.” You can see her work on Instagram by following @daryakalantari.

Marisa Mustard

Originally from Athens, Marisa Mustard began as a sketch artist, working with crisp lines and swaths of bold solid colors. She became a full-time artist while living in New Orleans where she developed an interest in floral themes, then moved to New Mexico where the iconography of the “day of the dead” entered the mix. Now she’s back in Winterville and is busy painting everything from bridges to guitars to mailboxes in her signature style.

“I like painting things that aren’t on canvas,” says Mustard. “I was asked to paint a guitar for a wedding present five years ago, so that’s how that got started. Mailboxes have been the latest thing — I guess it’s a way for people to have a little splash of color, just a little bit of personality and fun. Murals are my favorite, though.”

You might find small works by Marisa for sale at your neighborhood Jittery Joe’s. And you can see more of her art on Instagram by following @m.leilaniart.

Eli Saragoussi

Eli Saragoussi came to Athens from Denver, where she grew up crafting both art and music. Like Marisa Mustard, Saragoussi spent time in New Orleans where she was profoundly influenced by the parade culture with its boundary-pushing costume and float work, and she continues to work on large scale theater props and set designs in addition to her illustration and textile art.

Saragoussi approaches art from a decidedly non-academic angle. “Self-reflection and critique are crucial when creating work,” she notes, but getting too caught up in “the rabbit hole of art theory [and] constantly trying to find meaning in one’s work” can end up being a distraction from the creative act itself. Sargoussi’s art is intentionally inviting on the surface, often with soft textures and bright colors and a feel reminiscent of stories from childhood, but closer inspection reveals a constant tension between the quaint and the grotesque in worlds inhabited by characters who are always slightly out of balance. You can find Eli’s work on Instagram by following @flimmyflammy.