Piano Damaged: Vandalism Ruled Out By Organizers (Updated Title to Reflect Most Recent Information)

Damaged Piano, Krutch Park Extension, Knoxville, October 2019

It was such an optimistic idea: Artists would make their art on instruments that passersby could use to make more art. Conversations would start over music, people would be moved. More art on the street would elevate us all.

And that has happened. The pianos have been beautiful and they have been played. I’ve heard some struggling artists, shall we say? But I’ve also been stopped in my tracks by great classical pieces and one excellent rendition of “New York State of Mind,” just when I needed it. Last night when I took these pictures, one of the pianos was in use.

Mayor Rogero and artist Antuco Chicaiza with his piano, The Piano Project of Knoxville, Market Square, Knoxville, October 10, 2019

Japanese Pianist Yoshi Momoko Plays -Bohemian Rhapsody,- The Piano Project of Knoxville, Market Square, Knoxville, October 10, 2019

So what went wrong? Well for starters, I’m not sure where the piano buddies were when the rain started, but the pianos were exposed to the elements. It seems even the ones on the Square, which have a cover high overhead, should be covered during rainfall. The one in Krutch Park was simply being poured on. What happened to the covers?

Beyond that, the news is worse. The piano in Krutch Park was apparently deliberately damaged. Someone knocked most of the black keys loose, making the piano unplayable. By the time I saw it, some were missing and some were simply laying loose atop the keyboard. It is ruined. And if it wasn’t destroyed by the vandalism, there is no doubt the rain furthered the damage.

Damaged Piano, Krutch Park Extension, Knoxville, October 2019

Damaged, Krutch Park Extension, Knoxville, October 2019

There is a wide range of behavior in a city. A wide range of people come together in one spot, and the resulting behavior is equally wide-ranging. Some people do great things, most of us just muddle along, and some of us do bad things. Generally, the bad things are understandable within context: a drug addict will exhibit bad behaviors, for example, but logical behaviors if you live in that world.

This behavior is harder for me. I suppose it takes a damaged individual to destroy something offered freely and intended to simply share joy on the street. That someone would want to do something so destructive is hard for me to understand. Sure, there are worse things that can be done, but it’s hard to imagine anything more senseless.

I hope the piano in Krutch Park is restored or replaced, although the artist only got twelve days for his work to be shown, which is unfortunate. I also hope the remaining pianos will be covered when appropriate and respected as they deserve. Everybody needs a little joy, and these instruments can spread it if we take care of them. We can have nice things, can’t we? Can’t we?

Editor’s Note: Brian Clay, head of the project says he feels humidity is the culprit: Not vandals. More Later


  1. A sour note has been struck.

    • It could be the same person/people who at least twice a year pull plants out by the roots and throw them on the sidewalk at Pete’s and also further up the street on Union. This has been going on for years and I suspect their name begins with hom. There really needs to be some around the clock foot patrolling downtown by more than one police person!

      • Steven Stone says

        Agreed. One of the tradeoffs of living in the city is dealing with the sociopaths anong us. Currently we’re not doing a very good job of that.

  2. Chris Eaker says

    When I heard about these pianos, I thought, how nice! But then immediately thought, but pianos can’t be out in the elements. And then this vandalism. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all. And you’re right in implying, this is why we can’t have nice things.

    • I’m not often left with a loss of words, but I am today. Such a beautiful gift to Knoxville and we didn’t love it enough to protect it. Music and art touches us in ways that words cannot, and the loss of these pianos is so sad. 😢 One step forward, one step back.

  3. Painful to read this, but putting it out there for us to know is important.

  4. In the early 2000’s, several regional artists painted and decorated “hound dogs” that were sponsored by Dogwood Arts. I designed and painted one with artificially long ears that curled and caught your imagination and a body in ribbon designs of blue and gold. It was celebrated in the news papers and was installed in Krutch Park where it was immediately stolen. Most people (including me) never even got to see it in place. Respect for public and personal art and other nice things can be sorely lacking in our city. Chattanooga has wonderful outdoor art. Do they have more or better security? Do we just lack respect for art and each other? Where is our sense of pride and joy in having beautiful things for our city? I wondered when the pianos went out how they would be protected from the elements and the disrespectful. Do we need more education for our public, better planning or more funds for security? Maybe we need all of these things. This is sad.

  5. Bob Arnold says

    Sort of reminds me of the first WKRP Annual Turkey Drop back in 1978. Who would have thought pianos have to stay dry. And on that note (😉) I think it very possible that the rain swelled the keys and they popped off. Just my thought. All art isn’t intended to be forever. Doesn’t mean the joy it brought was not worth the effort 😊

  6. Chris Eaker says

    Out of curiosity, where did these pianos come from to begin with? I wondered if they were headed for the trash heap already and this was intended to give them a little more life. I can’t imagine someone acquired perfectly nice pianos only to paint them and place them outside in the elements with no plan to protect them unless their sole purpose was to be visual art.

  7. The taggers who vandalize the paintings in the art alley (and every wall in the city) have the same low-life mentality. Maybe the city should offer a reward for information on the vandals. Surely their friends would turn them in for a little cash.

  8. More cameras around downtown would be nice. They can be hidden and only viewed when incidents occur. (Nothing like 1984.) Then we can see who is actually doing this and punish accordingly.

  9. Larry Lewis says

    When the original entry on this project was published here, I resisted commenting that vandalism (and, yes, the elements) would nix this quickly. I didn’t want to seem negative about a great idea, in principle. I’m a full-time musician and live in a city which supports the arts, big time, in part for the tourism angle.

    We live in a society having, in my view, a disproportionate number of people who, for a variety of reasons, hate themselves and lash out accordingly. I’m not singling out Knoxville, of course. Still, I saw this idea as rather naive, while well intended. I hope the concept continues to go forward, in any case. Kudos to all for trying.

  10. I will admit, I did at least expect drunk people leaving the bars in market square after midnight to piss on them. I’m surprised someone fully vandalized them though. That’s such a shame.

  11. Im not suprised it got damaged but I am suprised it was that intentional. Channel 10 has a camera pointing in that direction on top of Soccer Taco. Doubt it records or would be very useful from that distance though.

  12. Hello All, I’m Brian Clay, founder of The Piano Project of Knoxville. I’m glad to see so many of you enjoyed seeing the project happen in our city. Also, thanks so much to Alan Sims for keeping us up to date on ALL the happenings around town and for loving this place so much! WE APPRECIATE YOU!

    I do want to let everyone know that my honest opinion after inspecting the pianos and investigating the situation a bit — I’m not convinced that this is vandalism. Unfortunately – the company providing me with piano covers for the instruments (in case of inclement weather) dropped that ball, and the pianos were exposed to the recent heavy rainfall. You’ll notice that the only damage on any of the instruments are keys. I would suspect that vandals wouldn’t stop at just the keys if their intent was to damage these instruments. One day when I was inspecting the pianos and playing (after the first rains last week) – a key broke under my fingers as I was playing lightly.

    These instruments will be repaired and tuned, and delivered to their “forever home” (the first going to Dogwood Elementary this week).

    Thank you ALL for supporting the Piano Project of Knoxville!

    Having said all that – I’m going to err on the side of optimism — and moving forward I’ll have a system of piano covers and piano locks for the spring.

    • I don’t know the cost or the type of material used for piano covers against the elements but couldn’t a simple large tarp be used? Something large purchased at Costco or Sams, rather inexpensive, with straps attached in order to wrap and hold the covers in place, to be used in lieu of professional piano covers? They could be purchased immediately and held by the individuals chosen to cover the pianos. Less expensive and immediate solution, if it wasn’t vandalism.

  13. I enjoyed seeing these pianos downtown this weekend and was not aware and did not consider potential problems with them. I was grateful to be showing guests around a lovely city that like all other cities have some less desirable parts to them.

  14. I have a piano to donate

  15. Learning this makes me enormously sad as well as angry at those who would vandalize art intended for people to enjoy, not destroy. I can’t imagine what possesses someone to engage in such senseless acts. We seem to have had a rash of similar occurrences recently. I hope the perpetrators will be caught and given appropriate punishment and that downtown business owners can afford to upgrade or install security.

    • There was zero vandalism. The people behind the piano’s have confirmed that. Cameras are in the area and none show vandalism.

  16. Marshall Scott says

    A piano is left in the rain and the keys have delamited. That’s simple negligence. But a more popular idea is that it’s the work of a vandal, and that our community has been victimized.
    I cant get my head around why we are so hungry for the negative.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      You are correct. I generally try to assume the best and feel the same as you, that people are too quick to assume the negative. In this case, I assumed too quickly myself.

  17. The title should probably be updated to make it clear there is zero question as to whether there was vandalism–there wasn’t.

  18. How strange the change from major to minor-

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