Essex County News

ACEO Partners with SOPAC for 5th Annual Playin' Around South Orange Project

ACEO Members Marsha Wilkerson, Gwendolyn "Arri" Jackson & Irene Pomianowski at Playin' Around South Orange. Their creation "Eye-Full" Piano is on display at the Sloan Street Gazebo thur September 27.

EAST ORANGE, NJ - The Arts Council of East Orange (ACEO) recently partnered with neighboring South Orange Performing Arts Center on the 5th Annual Playin’ Around South Orange Project, which included the painting of pianos whose keys will be open for free “tickling” in four downtown South Orange locations between Aug. 30-Sept. 27.

Under the creative direction of longtime East Orange resident Gwendolyn “Arri” Jackson, former president of ACEO, the “Eye-Full” piano was born and brought to life in part with the assistance of fellow ACEO members Irene Pomianowski (co-concept creator), Marsha Wilkerson, and ACEO President Helena Branch, all retired volunteers and long-time residents of East Orange.

Pomianowski, a visual artist and photographer who last year was one of the featured artists of Pink Dragon Artist Syndicate's "East Orange is the Newest Black" exhibition at historic Manufacturer's Village, lovingly described the collaborative project like “art camp.” Over the past month, the project brought together a “motley crew” of volunteers to assist Jackson, a retired Newark Public Schools art teacher, in executing her vision to re-purpose the pianos and give them a second creative life in the South Orange community.

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“This has been a dream of mine for some time now and I cannot explain how overwhelmed I am by all of the support I’ve received throughout this process,” said Jackson. “These are the types of creative placemaking projects that ACEO wants to help bring to East Orange. Our city is primed and ready to bring all of the underground creativity of our residents to the forefront of making East Orange a true destination city.”  

Jackson and Pomianowski were actually inspired to create the “Eye-Full” concept after Pomianowski’s mused upon a recent calamity that left her with a black eye. The piano, which is prominently on display in the Sloan Street gazebo in front of South Orange’s Train Station, features various eyes and songs about eyes. It is the hope of the two artists that the musicians would be inspired to play the popular songs such as "Bette Davis Eyes," "Brown-Eyed Girl" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."

Kick-off festivities for the pianos were held from noon-1 p.m. on Sat., Aug. 26. 

Programmed by the South Orange Village Center Alliance, Wednesday night Jam sessions at the Sloan Street Gazebo will make the area around the South Orange Transit Station come alive with music weekly from 5-7 p.m. Aug.30-Sept.27.

Other artists include Bill Billec (“South Orange Submarine” at Spiotta Park), Elizabeth, Alexa and Allie Sibio (“Peacock” Baby Grand at Village Service Center on South Orange Avenue), and Sandy Koturba assisted by JESPY House clients (“Zentangle” at Irvington & West Fairview Avenues). Lawrence Ciarallo painted the piano located at the Bishop Dougherty University Center on the Seton Hall University campus.

Pianos are donated by various individuals from throughout the community. Director of SOPAC Community Engagement, Linda Beard, keeps her eyes and ears open for possible donations all year long, sometimes asking people to “hold on to” their instruments for several months for lack of storage space until the summer comes around again. Her goal for the program is “to interrupt the day-to-day routine and allow people the opportunity to interact with different genres of art in a unique way.” She says with obvious enthusiasm, “It’s about bringing what we do inside the [SOPAC] building outside to the community.” 

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