Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

May 6, 2013

'Sweet' on Lockport

By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — What's your sweet idea for Lockport?

An open question to the community went up on a chalk board outside City Hall on Monday. Everyone's invited to stop by, any time this week, and fill in the blank: "I'm important to Lockport because I ..."

The 8-by-8-foot interactive display, by downtown business owner Ellen Martin and the Market Street Art Center, subtly asks Lockportians to focus on the upsides, rather than the downsides, of local life.

Martin, the owner-operator of Sweet Sixteen Cafe and the Sweet Ride bike rental shop, says her query is inspired by the negativity that seem to erupt almost reflexively, in blogs, Facebook postings and everyday conversation, whenever the topic is Lockport. 

Listening to the local curmudgeons, you'd think there's no more hopeless place in the world than this.

Do the rest of us who've made our lives here agree?

Presumably not. It just doesn't occur to most of us to shout contentment from a rooftop — or jot it down on a "sweet" board in the public square. 

Thus the chalk board project is about "shifting the paradigm," Martin said. "Instead of focusing on shortcomings, let's look at what's good — and what each of us is doing, locally, to help our community."

The project is a form of community art, that is, public self-expression, according to Market Street Art Center director Linda Van Buskirk.

Taking chalk in hand is "an opportunity for people to express themselves about Lockport: why they live here, why they find it a good place to be," she said. "The purpose is to bring together people with good feelings."

The sweet board will be up at City Hall until next Monday. If participants find the board is full, Martin suggests they write "over others in different colors. It should be a free-for-all!"

After Monday, the board will be taken down and reused from July 6 through July 14, when "My Sweet Dream" invites community listing of bucket-list items. The board will be hung on Canal Street near the Sweet Rides shop.

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Martin and Market Street Art Center are collaborating on a second community art project, "Sweet Harmony," which kicks off in late June.

The project has a dozen businesses and community groups sponsoring working pianos outside their establishments. The point is to encourage public music making by any and all who care to tickle the ivories. This interactive art project will be ongoing through Aug. 18, the date of Taste of Lockport 2013.

"It's like the (Herd About) buffaloes but with music," Martin said.

Sweet Harmony is inspired by the ongoing, world-traveling art show by British artist Luke Jerram. The artist acquires pianos and has them placed in public parks, bus shelters, train stations, outside art galleries, even on bridges and ferries, and invites public music making with the simple printed instruction, "Play me, I'm yours."

With help from Miller Piano mover Tom Miller, Martin and the Art Center acquired 12 unwanted pianos. Business/civic sponsors are paying a fee of $350 each to cover professional moving, tuning and a share of the cost of a publicity brochure.

Sponsors also are asked to repaint/decorate their pianos as they see fit. According to Martin, interior designer Julie Muscato is treating the recovery process itself as art. Her piano is going outside her Main Street storefront in early June to be decorated as the public watches. Of the piano that'll sit outside Sweet Rides all summer, Martin is attempting to turn it into a bicycle.

"This has been done all over the world, without incident, including in New York City," Martin said of the piano show. "There's no reason why it can't work in Lockport."

Artists in residence at Market Street Art Center are available to help advise sponsors' piano designs, Van Buskirk said. A group of them contributed to the design of the piano that'll sit outside the center on Market Street, perhaps beckoning canal tourists to join the locals in music making.

Sweet Harmony piano sponsors also include Lake Effect Ice Cream, Canal Street; Sweet Sixteen Cafe and J. Fitzgerald Group, both West Main Street; Old City Hall, Pine Street; and The Bar Association of Niagara County, which is aiming to have its piano placed outside the county courthouse on Hawley Street.

For more information about sponsoring a piano, contact Martin at ellen@sweetsixteencafe.com.