“Touch to See”: The VisionCorps Piano
From a distance, the VisionCorps piano looks like a plain, white piano. However, a closer look reveals something more: a series of raised images that include faces, the Earth, swirls, rays of light, and a message in braille that reads “Touch to see”.
Located right across from their offices on North Queen Street in the RRTA Bus station, the piano represents the commitment VisionCorps has to assisting their 2,000 clients and the approximately 250,000 Pennsylvanians who are blind or vision impaired.
Formerly known as the Susquehanna Association for the Blind and Vision Impaired, VisionCorps’ mission is to empower those with vision loss to attain independence, according to Amy Giangiulio, Marketing and Communication Coordinator. They do this through three ‘arms’: the Foundation arm, which is the fundraising arm of the business; the Enterprise Division arm, which aims to lower the 70% unemployment rate for vision impaired Americans by employing workers on projects such as sewing pads for the inside of military helmets and bottling chemicals that go into federal prisons; and the Services arm, which offers occupational therapy, daily living skills instruction, and support services for adults and youth.
Although it is their first time with a Keys for the City piano, it is not their first time working with Music for Everyone. In April, with the help of Stephen Patterson, founder of Ukulele Uprising, Anita Lefever, who helps with the youth services at VisionCorps, and Mika McDougall, board member of Horizons (A summer enrichment program at Lancaster Country Day School), VisionCorps applied for a $1,000 grant from Music for Everyone to buy 15 ukuleles to be shared by VisionCorps and Horizon children. “Our youth services students were taught how to use ukuleles. They actually learned how to play the ukulele through a group (Ukulele Uprising) that came and taught them. And at our last 2nd Look event they performed with their ukuleles” says Amy Giangiulio.
For Amy, this is just the start of incorporating music into their youth and adult services.
“That’s the first big musical undertaking I’ve been aware of since I’ve been here. However, since we now also have a Keys For the city piano, it’s becoming a more important thing to us.”
For Sherry Harry, Senior Director of Business Relations & Marketing at VisionCorps, her ties with the organization go back even further. “John Gerdy (founder of Music for Everyone) and I have worked together for two to three years on the Extraordinary Give and gotten to know each other that way, and I also knew Root 222 (the designers of the piano) because they did work for two years at the Extraordinary Give. It’s just through building relationships between these community partners. Through multiple partnerships over the years, [Music for Everyone] really felt that VisionCorps was one of the organizations they wanted to highlight because they’ve worked with us, and in turn Ukulele Uprising is teaching the children. It all comes around.”
For Root 222, it all comes down to who the piano is for. “I think because we knew the nature of the group we were doing it for, we wanted to… do something specifically for the patrons of the business, being in this case the blind” says Anthony Mark, one-third of the Root 222 trio that also includes Deric Hettinger and Schon Wanner, “So this piece is tactile, something you can see with your hands. And really, the whole piano being painted white was to bring home that it was for touching and not for looking at.”
“It’s really for the blind.” Schon Wanner elaborates, “You can only see the raised images up-close. When we do work for the public, it’s for the public; [The piano] tells people to be inclusive and give something to people who don’t get public art created for them.”
For Deric Hettinger, the piano pushed the trio into uncharted creative territory “When Anthony Mark came up with the idea of drawing in caulk, it was definitely breaking down a wall and trying something new. I thought it was very inventive to just make a painting you can touch. We definitely played with our creative side. I know it might be simple or minimalistic, and we were thinking about throwing a flair of color here and there, but I think it was a unique, one of a kind experience to make almost like a white wedding cake. It’s very off-the-cuff for us because we usually love colorful imagery, so we went in a new direction, which I enjoyed.”
This seemingly simple piano tells a complex story, written by the people who have inspired it. It is a narrative of hard work, service, and community partnerships, dedicated and made for those who are blind or vision impaired.
For Amy Giangiulio, the piano’s ability to silently spread awareness is its best quality “I have seen people there probably every time I’ve walked by but one… I hope when people are seeing the VisionCorps logo and understanding the tactile art of the piece and the braille that’s on it that they’re linking that to our building and the services we provide to the community. It’s all about awareness, because the more we can get the community to know what we do and to be involved with what we do, the more it spreads via word of mouth in our community and the more people we can help.” For this organization, it all comes around.