NEW YORK — Consider them keys to the city: Anyone who gets a sudden itch to tickle the ivories will be able to play free public pianos in 50 places throughout New York City, from the Coney Island boardwalk to the Metropolitan Museum.
An art installation touring the world is making its first U.S. stop beginning Monday. For two weeks, players can play tunes on pianos all over New York City, at famous landmarks like the Lincoln Center, the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Staten Island ferry terminal and Central Park's bandshell.
The concept, devised by British artist Luke Jerram, has put more than 130 pianos in parks, squares and bus stations since 2008 in cities including London, Sydney and Sao Paulo. And now it's New York City's turn to play, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday.
"There's going to be a huge amount of talent here," Jerram said in an interview. "The piano's actually a blank canvas for everyone's creativity, really, so I just hope that the city enjoys it."
The New York installation will be the largest in the project. It is double the size of the previous largest – 30 pianos in London last year.
Each of the 60 pianos to be installed throughout New York has its own attendants responsible for its care. That involves unlocking the keyboard at 9 a.m. every day and deploying a heavy tarp over the instrument if it rains.
The pianos were donated for the cause and have been painted and decorated by artists.
They will be delivered to 27 locations in Manhattan, 10 in Brooklyn, five in Queens and four each in Staten Island and the Bronx.
Jerram got the idea at his local coin-operated laundry, according to a website about the project. He saw the same people there every weekend, but none of them talked to each other. He thought a piano might help bring people together in places like that.
The results in other cities have been surprising and life-changing, he said in an interview. A woman in Sao Paulo heard her daughter play for the first time on one of Jerram's pianos in a train station. The mother had worked to pay for lessons for four years, but the family had no piano at home.
In Sydney, a couple met at a piano and are now married, Jerram said.
On Thursday, Bloomberg and other city officials unveiled a piano in a waterfront park in Queens, where passers-by welcomed the art installation.
"It seems like a good idea that brings a sense of fun and playfulness to the city," said David Rosenfeld, who was riding his bike in the area.
Most pianos will be open for song until 10 p.m.
After the art installation concludes, the pianos will be donated to schools and hospitals, according to Sing for Hope, a nonprofit that coordinated the New York project.