Last Friday, PS 196 officially unveiled the new piano, donated by the organization Sing For Hope. The group is known for placing artistic pianos at public spaces throughout New York City.
The piano, called “Building Blocks,” was designed by Park Slope-based architect and educator Jieun Yang.
Robert Burstein, a longtime ESL teacher and magnet specialist at PS 196, said the new addition contributes to the school’s theme: communications and mixed media arts.
“A good education is not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but to be a truly well-rounded person you should be literate and know things about science and social studies and so forth,” he said. “But artistic experiences speak to a person in a way that language cannot.
“The more that we can provide those opportunities for our kids, the better off they will be in terms of getting a full education,” he added.
PS 196 received a federal magnet grant last October, along with three years of funding for programs and additional instruction. Burstein said PS 196 has a large concentration of Hispanic students.
“The theory is if you mix everybody up, everybody gets a better education,” he said.
The funding has been used to bring artists and arts group to the school. PS 196 recently partnered with Rosie’s Theater Kids, an arts education group created by Rosie O’Donnell, to teach drama and musical theater.
Burstein said the school also has “residencies” in which artists of different specialties come to work with students. The funding for the magnet grant, $500,000 each year, has also been used to buy new iPads, laptops and other technology for the school.
“The arts speak to the heart in a different way,” Burstein said. “We here endeavor to give them those opportunities.”
Their latest opportunity is with Sing For Hope. Mel Smith, a program and communications manager with the organization, told hundreds of students who filled the auditorium that artists apply to paint the pianos. After completing the design, the pianos are moved to locations throughout the five boroughs.
All 50 end up at permanent home, such as PS 196, at the end of the year.
Principal Janine Colon said the piano will be like a “newborn baby in our home” that students will love and care for.
“The piano is really important because it gives us one more avenue for the children to experience art,” she said.
Camille Zamora, co-founder of Sing For Hope, said she loves the program because it creates an “instant moment of community.”
“It’s a sense of joy and people coming together and bringing out the best in people, which is our ability to connect and create harmony and find commonality,” she said.
Zamora came to New York to study at The Juilliard School. She said many artists growing up in different parts of the country dream of coming to New York because of the arts.
After September 11, 2001, Zamora said she felt the world was in a lot of pain. It was a moment that “precipitated a lot of questioning,” she said.
Zamora teamed up with other artists and began singing at firehouses. Later, that extended to schools, hospitals and other places where “they can use a little hope.”
In 2010, Sing For Hope began its project of placing pianos throughout the city. To date, they have made 400 pianos into pieces of artwork.
“Even in this cultural capital of the world, there are so many people who don’t have the arts in their lives,” she said. “Our feeling is that that’s just wrong, especially when it comes to our kids.
“Sing For Hope is a grassroots artist-led movement, we are sort of an arts Peace Corps,” she added. “We directly bring the arts into people’s lives.”
After the “Building Blocks” piano was unveiled, a group of kindergarten students sang an inaugural song. They were followed by a performance from local singer and songwriter Neil Davis, who performed his single “Smile.”
Zamora said moving forward, their group will continue to bring more pianos into the community and more arts into the city. She said many schools and parks are still on their waiting list, and hopefully they will all get that touch of inspiration.
“Our dream is to just keep expanding until everybody has that ability to have art and music in their lives,” Zamora said.