With help from the area’s schools and colleges, the Academy Center of the Arts is bringing music to the streets of Lynchburg. As part of the Academy Center’s Community Outreach Initiative, the Hill City Keys program (formerly Keys for the Hill City) is entering its third year with nine pianos designed by the students of nine schools. The pianos will stick around downtown Lynchburg until the end of October.
The idea of placing lavishly painted pianos around city streets started in London and has spread to cities around the world and the United States. Libby Fitzgerald, who started Hill City Keys, came across the vividly adorned pianos when visiting Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
“In Lancaster, the pianos were all painted by professional artists but when I returned to Lynchburg, I got the idea of using high school students to do ours,” Fitzgerald said. “My thought was that giving them an opportunity to make a civic contribution and to create school pride and for their school communities to be able to get involved would be such a positive thing. And it has proven to be.”
Starting this year, Libby Fitzgerald also started reaching out to middle schools in addition to high schools and colleges. “The themes all these students and teachers have come up with for their pianos and their skill in carrying them out has truly stunned me every year,” Fitzgerald said. From the beginning, Hill City Keys has been popular among both participating students and Lynchburg natives.
“The response to the new pianos on social media has been overwhelming,” Kate Scullen, Director of Marketing at the Academy Center of the Arts, said. “Hundreds of people have responded to how excited they are to have Hill City Keys back and are looking forward to playing them downtown.”
Each year has had more participants and, of course, pianos. Initially, there were five pianos and in the second year there were seven. The pianos themselves are donated by people looking to offload them. After the end of the program’s season, Libby Fitzgerald has offered the pianos back to the schools that sponsored them or, if the schools have no place for them, donated them to community centers.
This is the first year that the Academy Center of the Arts has been the 501c3 sponsor of the program, helping cover the expenses involved with moving and tuning the pianos, carpentry work, promotions, and so on. It is hoped that the funds raised by Hill City Keys will help fund other programs under the Community Outreach Initiative umbrella.
“My biggest joy is seeing people’s delight that the pianos are returning each year, and so many have said that downtown feels barren without them after they go away,” Fitzgerald said. “There is no doubt that walking down the street and hearing beautiful music coming from everywhere is a magical experience!” So far, Libby Fitzgerald thinks, Lynchburg is the only city in Virginia to have such a program.
“What I think “Hill City Keys” achieves and why it has proven to be so wonderful is that it brings together music and public art and our schools and students and our revitalized downtown and the Academy Center, and that’s a win-win all the way around,” Fitzgerald added.
Schools whose students painted the pianos and where their pianos are located are:
- Sandusky Middle School: Absolute Bridal and Formal
- Dunbar Middle School: Kegney Bros. Irish Pub
- Linkhorne Middle School: Schewels Furniture
- Heritage High School: Bank of the James
- Altavista High School: Community Market
- Liberty University: The Galleria
- E.C. Glass High School: Amazement Square
- Brookville High School: Tourist Center, corner 12th Street & Church
- James River Day School: Academy Center of the Arts, near Warehouse Theatre
“Hill City Keys is a unique program that brings the community together by engaging individuals of different ages and groups. The program is founded on the involvement of area students who design the pianos at their prospective schools,” Evan Smith, Director of Community Outreach for the Academy Center of the Arts, said. “Then the pianos later engage downtown residents, workers, and other Lynchburg citizens as public art pieces that are not only visually pleasing but also create wonderful sounds for all to hear.”
Special thanks to Home Depot for providing paint and supplies to the schools, to T. J. Matthews for tuning, and to Perry’s Pianos for moving the pianos to their locations.
Use the hashtag #HillCityKeys to document your experience.
By Chad Denton
Thank you to Baird Financial, Walmart Foundation, and the Genworth Foundation for helping to make community outreach possible. Learn more about the Academy’s Community Outreach Programs: academycenter.org/community-outreach