Marissa Balonon-Rosen

October 15, 2013

As the visionary and organizer behind Pianos for Peace, Marissa enlisted community support and also won a small sum of money from Eastman’s New Venture Challenge to make her idea a reality. Pianos were donated by families and local organizations. In August, the ten painted pianos were then placed throughout Rochester neighborhoods for anyone to play. Once placed, local youth, professional artists, and community members worked together to paint the pianos with their own interpretations of peace. The pianos were also used for free lessons and short performances. Marissa’s work is an example of how combining passion and entrepreneurial spirit can have a widespread community impact.

Can you describe the impact you hope Pianos for Peace will have on the Rochester community?

Pianos for Peace was a community movement that placed donated pianos (mostly outdoors) around Rochester for all to play for three weeks in August 2013. Pianos were decorated with peace themes by youth, local artists, and residents. Concerts were held, piano lessons were given, parties were scheduled and gatherings spontaneously took place.  By placing these pianos in outdoor locations in various neighborhoods, it allowed for people – young and old alike – to stumble across these pianos, to play them and just experiment with them. It gave neighborhoods where residents have limited access to the arts the opportunity to have a real piano for a couple weeks.  I hope that the Pianos for Peace project sparks more people’s interest to get involved in the arts in the future – whether that means music or visual arts. Arts are often the first thing that is cut in government and school budgets. I hope that this project showed our policy makers just how important the arts can be.

What are your plans for growing and sustaining this project?

All of the pianos are in the process of being donated to local organizations that work with youth or peace initiatives. So far, donated pianos are now housed at a Rochester City School, two locations of the nonprofit Coffee Connection, the Rochester Central Library, and the Artisan Works art space. The idea is that these pianos will continue to spread the message of peace, and will also serve as a reminder that everyone deserves the opportunity to make art.

What inspired you to launch this project?

I came across an outdoor piano when studying abroad during the spring of my junior year and was struck by the power it had over the community. I did some research and saw that similar outdoor piano projects happen in cities around the world. Given how musical Rochester is, I knew the piano project  would be embraced here. This project allowed people the opportunity to make music and art, and to spread the message of non-violence at the same time.

Your educational path is somewhat non-traditional as it includes Urban Youth Studies at the University of Rochester as well as a Music Theory degree at the Eastman School of Music. Looking forward, how do you hope to combine your interests and continue to make a difference in your community?

These two majors have allowed me to combine the interests I have in working with youth in urban environments and my love of music and the arts. In the future, I plan to continue working with community youth on arts-based projects. Recently I have been involved in a range of community projects, including teaching music, art, and dance in homeless shelters in New York City and starting a music program at a juvenile detention center in Rochester. I feel that youth have brilliant ideas and I believe in helping provide them with the tools to express themselves in creative ways.

How do you define entrepreneurship? In what ways does your project exemplify entrepreneurship?

I define entrepreneurship as a process: being inspired by an idea, imagining how it should take shape, getting others on board and excited about it, and organizing a team to make the idea happen. Pianos for Peace is an example of that process: I started by seeing an outdoor piano in Paris, imagined what it would look like in Rochester, and formed a team to make the project happen. Entrepreneurship is a beautiful thing, and I hope that a project like this shows others that a little bit of inspiration, organization and a large dose of hard work makes it possible to convert their own ideas into reality.