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Old 05-17-2018, 08:51 PM
Newton Daily News Newton Daily News is offline
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Default The sound of art

DES MOINES — Downtown Des Moines got a little more colorful Wednesday as crews delivered pianos across the metro area. Now entering its fifth year, City Sounds, the Des Moines Public Piano project, placed the first of its 2018 pianos across the Des Moines metro area.

It’s an opportunity for anyone to sit down in a public space and play their favorite tunes. This year the music will carry beyond Des Moines. Two Newton artists, Sommer Kibbe and Tiffany Thomas, were selected to participate in this year’s project.

Kibbe, a professional artist who owns the Art Junkie, located at 22 1/2 First Ave. W. in Newton has been teaching art classes for years. When Thomas, one of her students, asked her if she’d be interested in participating in the project, she jumped at the opportunity.

After poring over ideas, the duo created a portfolio of Kibbe’s work to send in to contest officials. The competition was fierce, with more than 40 local artists vying for 12 spots. They were elated earlier this year when they found out they’d been accepted. Now that each piano has been completed they’ll inhabit a public space in Des Moines, a move project organizers say will help encourage the arts locally.

For Kathryn Dickel, City Sounds co-founder, giving artists a canvas that is open and accessible to the public is what makes the project so unique.

“We want our community to experience music as part of their daily lives, not just something they pay to see,” Dickel said. “Places where music is ubiquitous in the culture are healthier, happier and more harmonious. That is the real power of music.”

Some of that elation faded when the pair realized how much work lay ahead of them. Painting the piano required prepping the surface of the ancient instrument first. Working at Mainframe Studios in Des Moines for six weeks, the two women sanded down the exterior of their piano before priming it.

The pianos, all of which were donated for the project, have often sat neglected for long periods of time. Kibbe and Thomas spent hours cleaning their musical instrument before they could start working on it, including removing mouse droppings from the interior of the instrument.

“It was an old piano from the stone ages, and then you have to sand the whole thing down,” Kibbe said. “I’m just used to being a dirty girl from being at the studio all day, but Tiffany, she showed up with gloves and a mask.”

Both women wanted to find a way to highlight many of the capital city’s unique aspects —*Des Moines’ downtown skyline, the Iowa State Fair and other local attractions are prominently displayed across the surface of the piano. Underneath the keys, author Jack Kerouac’s famous quote —*“the prettiest girls in the world are from Des Moines” —*makes a strong visual statement.

Knowing the piano would be outside, the pair decided to use paints that would glow in the dark to make the piano easier to see at night. Kibbe said she’s hoping those accents will encourage more people to use the piano when they see it displayed in public.

“We were looking for something cool and descriptive that would represent Des Moines,” Kibbe said. “It has a whimsical, kind of graffiti style of things that are important to Des Moines.”

Kibbe may have been the lead artist on the project, but Thomas’ help proved to be invaluable. Armed with a piece of chalk, Kibbe would outline each detail, then Thomas would follow behind her to fill those spaces with color. Once the color had been laid on the piano’s flanks, Kibbe would come back to fine tune the individual details. Ever since Thomas signed up for her first art class with Kibbe the two women have been friends, even the stress of finishing the piano in time couldn’t come between the pair.

“We worked really well together, which was a surprises because we’re both type a personalities,” Kibbe said. “It was a really good collaborative effort.”

All told, Kibbe estimates the pair has more than 60 hours of work in the project. Despite the long hours, Kibbe said she’s glad to have had the opportunity and a chance to attend City Sounds annual unveiling of the pianos. They said the praise their work has received has been encouraging.

“It was fun the night of the reveal because it was fun seeing people have their pictures taken with your piano,” Kibbe said. “It was cool to see all the different styles.”

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or

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