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Street piano sparks joy in San Luis Obispo

Piano in the Plaza is tucked to the side, across Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
Gabriela Fernandez
Piano in the Plaza is tucked to the side, across Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

Walking around Downtown San Luis Obispo, you may have seen a lone, colorful piano sitting in Mission Plaza. It’s part of a city wide campaign to bring people together through music this October, which is National Arts and Humanities Month.

The piano is tucked to the side, across from Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, covered in different shades of blues and greens. A dark red mountain range is painted above the keys.

On a quiet, sunny afternoon, local musician Kahonukai Boro came by to play. 

Boro is a self-taught musician, who has been playing piano for a decade. Originally from Maui, he’s lived on the Central Coast for about 20 years. He said the piano is a fun change of pace for San Luis Obispo — anyone can come and sit down and play.

“Just walking around here every single day, seeing complete strangers just collaborating with each other. It's fantastic,” Boro said.

Boro said it’s been a different way for artists to express themselves.

As he plays, a group of people watches from afar with giant smiles on their faces.

Piano in the Plaza is part of San Luis Obispo’s “ARTober” – a new program that recognizes October as National Arts and Humanities month.

The City recruited local pianists to play the piano throughout the month. You can catch the next artist, John Novacek on Monday, October 23rd around noon.

Molly Cano is with the City of San Luis Obispo.

“The community spirit that it brings and kind of the connection that you get with the folks who just randomly decide to sit down and play was something that we wanted to recreate here in our community.” Cano said.

Cano said they are not the first ones to come up with the idea to paint a piano and put it in a public space. 

A quick internet search will bring up all sorts of videos of street pianos across the world. The instruments are often painted in bright colors, and left in empty, public spaces for people to enjoy.

Cano said she has been wanting to bring the idea to San Luis Obispo for a while now.

When a local resident donated the piano to the city, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with it.

“We had a local artist, Missy Reitner-Cameron, the owner of the bunker, she partnered with us to be able to paint it and make it as beautiful as it could be here located in Mission Plaza,” Cano said.

The painted piano will remain in the plaza until the end of the month.

Musician Kahonukai Boro said he loves how this colorful instrument has brought people together.

“I love just the invitation for community,” Boro said.

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation, San Luis Obispo County.

Gabriela Fernandez came to KCBX in May of 2022 as a general assignment reporter, and became news director in December of 2023. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an associate producer on the TahoeLand podcast. When she's not writing or editing news stories, she loves to travel, play tennis and take her 140-lbs dog, Atlas, on long walks by the coast.
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