In 2016, Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp did a Flash Mob scene in downtown Bennington which included piano keys made from cardboard placed in the crosswalks. Videos of us singing and dancing to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” with our own lyrics went viral locally and more.
Shortly after that, there was an article in a Boston newspaper about Bennington. It focused on History, Nature and Food as a big part of our community, but it neglected a fourth element: The Arts, which is huge in this town!
It was time to make a statement to put Bennington arts on the map in a big way. I decided to approach the Select Board of Bennington (something that was totally out of my comfort level) and as if we might paint piano keys in the crosswalks of the Four Corners to add and celebrate the arts after all the praise that was received from the Flash Mob. I received a resounding and immediate “yes!”
There was a legal technicality in regard to painting the crosswalks but this glitch was remedied by the town learning that it was ok to paint the intersection not the crosswalks. So, I was told to put the piano keys in the middle of the road. That night, I had several nightmares about the project. I dreamt that I was lost and could not get out of town. This dream helped me reimagine the design to include a wind rose compass (so I wouldn’t be lost in town!) and use the piano keys as a frame. I quickly drafted my idea onto a napkin and asked my husband, Dale Cobb, if he could help me make it look more professional to get the final approval from the Select Board.
I sent the design via email to the Select Board and it was enthusiastically approved!
The arts in our community is so special – we have a huge number of musicians, writers, painters, dancers and graphic artists, etc. I wanted to honor everyone by placing this particular work of art prominently in the center of town. It is the only design of this kind in the world until a piano student of mine in India asked if he could copy it. I gave him the thumbs up to do so!
I welcome you all to consider sharing these pictures of the Piano Key Compass as a reminder to visit our beautiful town. Your first destination stop in Bennington might include seeing the piano key/compass at the Four Corners! Thank you!
With a project of this size, there are many people to thank who made this possible:
First off, to the young pianists at Summer Sonatina International Piano Camp who did a wonderful Flash Mob scene downtown in the crosswalks with camp-made cardboard covered piano keys. They sang and danced to “Piano Man” and so many people loved it. Their spirited performance inspired me to think outside the box when the time came to do something big and arty for the town.
Next I need to thank the Sonata Piano Camp participants who so generously provide scholarships to local pianists to attend Summer Sonatina and who also shop downtown when they attend piano camp themselves.
The first individual to recognize is my husband, Dale Cobb, who put in so many hours measuring, drawing to scale, cutting and pasting, sawing templates, buying supplies and making sure that I stay calm about doing something way out of my norm. You are my hero!
Next come the three folks who nudged and reassured me that I was ready and prepared to present to the Town Select Board (you know who you are). Thank you for believing in me especially since I was so nervous about doing this!
The next group to thank in the chain of events is the Town Select Board. I will never forget how enthusiastically you said yes to the plans after witnessing the success and delight by the community of the Summer Sonatina Flash Mob scene.
GVH also had the equipment to help align some of the design features so that we could refine the template for ease of use each time the Piano Key Compass needed to be painted. They also made the compass point letters “N, E, S, and W.” Thank you, Greg VanHouten.
I want to thank the local community for encouraging me to take action as one of you. It is because I kept hearing over and over again that nothing changes in this town and that the little guy never gets heard that I decided to prove you wrong by doing something this courageous. I hope , in the future, this inspires other community members to also take action towards improving our town. Please remember that it takes patience, perseverance, communication, and a sturdy backbone to confront all the naysayers! This project from start to finish took about 18 months.
I want to thank Stu Hurd and other members in the Town Offices for working on this project with me and handling some of the legal hurdles. Your determination kept me going as well.
I want to thank Highway Superintendent RJ Joly, for his willingness to put his team onto the paint job despite some trepidation about the project. Your email to me the morning after the road was painted put the biggest smile on my face. Matt Hathaway did the paint job. He was amazingly calm and worked so patiently with Dale while we carefully placed a template down to be spray painted, one at a time. Matt did a mighty fine job and the fellow who poured sand on the paint job to give better traction also
I loved that the sheriff’s that arrived to reroute traffic, had no idea why traffic was being detoured. When I showed them the plans and pointed to the intersection, I’m pretty sure they all got a kick out of it.
Thank you to Mike Cutler of CAT-TV and Jeffrey Grimshaw and Sam Restino from BNN News, for all the videography. You captured the painting process perfectly. I also want to thank Matt Moon for the wonderful drone photograph of the intersection. It depicts the scope of the project. Hopefully, the drone image will capture the attention of Google Earth so that it becomes a more permanent landmark.
The Bennington Area Arts Council was instrumental in their support and excitement about the project. The council has great energy! I’m excited to see what the next big arts project will be.
I’m delighted the project was completed ahead of Bennington’s Downtown 2017 Mayfest so that more people could see the design in person. Both the Bennington Downtown Alliance and the Bennington Chamber of Commerce were also incredibly supportive of this project.
The Bennington Banner did an awesome job of capturing a photo of the Piano Key Compass. AP News picked this up and I heard from friends who had read the story from all over the country. What an amazing 15 minutes of fame! But, more importantly, it gave our town and the local arts organizations, a huge boost.
Finally, I want to thank all the people who engaged in discussion, wrote posts and shared so many of the photos when the Piano Key Compass was first painted. Let’s keep trending positive things in our community.
Initially, this was the only Piano Key Compass design in the world until my piano student in India asked if he could paint something similar.
Here is Ash Vaderaa’s story:
“Footprints to the Piano Keys
This is story of Polly van der Linde who besides other things is also my Piano teacher from Bennington, VT. She conceived an idea for her home town which would reflect art and culture for it. We, in New Delhi , India, modified and adopted her idea at one of the 18 centers of DCCW which deals with children of special needs. DCCW is one of the big charities in this part of the world, directly benefiting over 3000 children from the underprivileged section of the Indian society. Very soon we are also going to introduce music therapy for teaching our special needs children, hence footprints and piano keys are so symbolic of this.
Her paintings at the intersection were so impressive that I decided to emulate it at one of our DCCW centers however adding footprints of our children to her concept of the piano keys and the compass.
I thought that I was crazy owning 4 pianos and a flute in my family but Polly is crazier as she has about 32 pianos in her house and teaches over 500 people through online lessons and piano camps.
To me the world is just a large village. It was while we were finishing our online piano lesson on 23rd May 2017 that Polly said that they were going to paint the Four Corners at Bennington with piano keys and by 14th June, 2017 we had adopted and modified her idea at one of centers in New Delhi.”
I want to thank the Bennington Banner for following up with this international story as it proved that Art is Powerful because this project definitely put Bennington, VT on the map!
Some articles on the subject: