For over five decades now, people from all over the province have gathered at the St. John’s Arts & Culture Centre to take in a concert, musical, play or other production, creating cherished memories with family and friends along the way. It’s hoped that our seventh #ComePlayWithMeNL public piano (officially unveiled in the space last month) will help add to these special moments and bring people closer together through a shared love of the arts.
The makeover of the piano (which is sponsored by Toyota Plaza) comes courtesy of the 2019 graduates of CNA’s Textile & Apparel Design Program and is an homage to the magic of live performance and everything that pulls it together – from the costumes to the stage lights.
We spoke with five of the nine artists behind the design (Sonya Coish, Shahida Rajput, Michelle Harris, Rachel Murphy and Brooklyn Yetman) about how their creative collaboration helped give this old piano a new life.
Business & Arts NL: This particular piano marks the first time that we’ve had more than one artist working on the design (simultaneously). How many students were involved with creating and painting the design, and what was it like working together as a group?
Michelle Harris: There were nine of us involved in creating and painting the design, along with guidance from our instructor, Stephanie Stoker. We have all become very close during these past two years of school together, so we worked well as a group on this project. We came up with the ideas together, and we all had a part on the piano which we painted.
Sonya Coish: It was fun to have everyone contribute their ideas and perspectives on the piano. We have been going to school together for two years and have a lot of respect for each other’s creative process and are comfortable sharing ideas with one another. It was also beneficial to have our instructor help us blend all of our ideas into one cohesive concept.
Rachel Murphy: It was good to work as a group where everyone’s style was so different, which made the whole piano more interactive and fun in my opinion.
Brooklyn Yetman: It was amazing working in a group. We all had great ideas that really made the piano come to life.
Business & Arts NL: How easy, or difficult, was it to nail down the final concept? Did you go through many different iterations? Does the final product resemble what was initially envisioned?
Sonya Coish: I think it was easy to get a final concept as we all agreed that the main concern was to represent the Arts & Culture Centre. We had lots of ideas since there were so many of us, so we just chose the concepts that best represented the theme of this piano. We did a bit of editing, but overall the vision stayed the same.
Shahida Rajput: As students on this project, we wanted to show both our individuality, as well as our harmony as a team. We achieved this by creating individual designs during our drawing class and once satisfied, coming together to pick one design that we all agreed expressed us and the concept “a celebration of local, live performance.” In our designs we showcased what we have learned through our diploma.
Michelle Harris: We took a bit of something from everyone’s ideas. We then added in some more elements to highlight the music and the tech aspects of live performance. The final product resembles portions of our original concepts, but enhanced with a few important additions.
Rachel Murphy: I think that the process for everything was moderate. Although everyone had many different styles and opinions for the piano, it was nice when we all came up with a design that everyone agreed upon. And the final outcome wasn’t altered too much from our original plan.
Brooklyn Yetman: As a class we came up with final samples of where things would be placed. Once everyone started painting the process it came along so well.
Business & Arts NL: The initial artist call-out requested that the design reflect “a celebration of local live performance.” How did you decide which elements to include to best reflect this vision?
Sonya Coish: Our main focus was to include as many aspects that go into a production at the Arts & Culture Centre as possible…Luckily, our instructor, Stephanie Stoker, had spent much time at the ACC and could guide us in how to best represent it.
Michelle Harris: We wanted to highlight some of the things that go on behind the scenes that may not always get the recognition they deserve: light and sound technicians, costume designers, band musicians, set and prop designers, etc. As textile and design students, we know how important these jobs are in tying the performance together.
Rachel Murphy: We decided as a class to incorporate these elements for the piano because we had all agreed that it was important for the general public to be aware of the artisans and craftspeople that are so involved in things such as theatre.
Business & Arts NL: The piano bench is particularly interesting. Can you tell us a bit more about this particular part of the design?
Sonya Coish: As a group who focus largely in textiles, many of our initial ideas were costume or prop based. However, we quickly realized that to only focus on these aspects of live performance was not representative of all the other technical work the goes into a production at the ACC. Painting a sound board on the bench was a great way to showcase the technical side of theatre and its importance to any production.
Michelle Harris: We wanted to highlight the importance of the sound technicians. They work hard to make the performance sound the way that it should.
Rachel Murphy: Where we decided that we wanted to incorporate all of the areas that are involved in theatre, this was just another area that respects the individuals and their jobs and how important they are (individuals that specialize in sound and lighting).
Business & Arts NL: What’s been the most rewarding part of this project for the team?
Sonya Coish: Besides the financial help it has provided for our graduate shows this June, it was a honour to work with my classmates to contribute something to our community that others will enjoy for years to come!
Michelle Harris: We are so incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity to create this piece of art which celebrates many different parts of what we do as artists, and to have it displayed in a place which supports arts and culture in our city.
Rachel Murphy: The most rewarding part was seeing the piano being unveiled. It gave me, personally, a great sense of pride to know that I helped to create something with so much history into something that will continue to have the same amount of memories with each individual that will play it.
Brooklyn Yetman: Having the opportunity to be a part of this idea of the piano project NL and giving something back to the community.
Business & Arts NL: If there’s anything else you’d like to mention, please feel free!
Sonya Coish: Big shout-out to our instructor, Stephanie Stoker, who helped us see this project through! Having her experience and guidance was an invaluable asset to us.
Michelle Harris: I have been going to the Arts & Culture Centre for many years, whether it be on stage, in the audience, or backstage. I have danced in recitals, seen many musicals and plays, and even got to work backstage going through the costume bank when I worked on my high school musical production. It is such an honour to have been a part of this project and have my artwork displayed in this place which has been such an important part in helping shape the arts career which I am pursuing today.