What comes to mind when you think of community art? Perhaps the sculpture you pass on the way to work, or the community theatre group you joined as a kid. Maybe, if you live in New York, you envision the Sing for Hope Pianos, hand-painted by local artists and set on the streets and parks for any passer-by to play. Community art means something different to everyone, but what does it mean for communities themselves? Is there a palpable, even measurable effect that community art has in transforming the neighborhoods, towns, and cities where it resides?

The answer, coming from sources as diverse as economists, health professionals, educators, and social workers, is a resounding ,yes .

Elementary School students, friends and family, and passers-by gather around the Brooklyn Bridge Park Piano for a sing-a-long with their music teacher.

The arts are unique in their power to engage and benefit people of all backgrounds and abilities. Participating in the arts empowers us to express ourselves in ways that transcend the everyday, helping to ease anxiety and strengthening our ties to those around us. Not only does involvement in community arts build a sense of collective identity, it also reinforces tolerance and effective communication, and helps us to see our neighbors with greater understanding and empathy. In short, the arts are a vital part of our social harmony, in all senses of the word.

For young people, exposure to the arts not only brings opportunities for creative expression, but also instills what Sing for Hope board member and Aspen Institute Arts Director DAMIAN WOETZEL refers to as ,artistic habits of mind, honing discipline, increasing attention span, and allowing for a more nuanced, empathetic response to the world around them. Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of arts involvement in reducing crime and school drop-out rates for high-risk youth. This, in turn, helps sustain healthy communities where young people become productive members of society and are more likely to contribute positively to their neighborhoods as they grow up.

Students strike ballet poses with Volunteer Artist Tiler Peck (principal dancer, New York City Ballet), at a Youth Arts classroom visit.Moreover, the arts give voice to those who may feel alienated, including those suffering from illness, disability, or memory loss. As a powerful tool for reducing pain, isolation, and distress, shared arts experiences offer the promise of a better quality of life, helping participants to feel like valued members of the community.

At Sing for Hope, our programming is based on the knowledge that the arts have the power to bring hope, inspiration, healing, and a sense of community to everyone, no matter their background. In a city where the arts are abundant, but arts access is far from universal, we aim to level the playing field by bringing arts programming and opportunities to underserved neighborhoods. Working with over 220 partner hospitals, schools, and community centers rooted in these neighborhoods, we are able to identify the needs of each community and tailor our programs to fill gaps in arts access and, ultimately, deliver hope where it is needed most.

Patients get creative with Volunteer Artist Jessica Browne-White at a Healing Arts visit.The Sing for Hope Pianos, our flagship Community Arts program, embodies this mission of ,art for all by democratizing access to arts appreciation and creation. For the two weeks that the Pianos live in the city’s streets and parks, each instrument becomes a community touchpoint where possibilities are endless for impromptu performances and lessons, instant ensembles with strangers, and special community-organized events.

Among the many meaningful moments shared around the Pianos this June was a CONCERT PERFORMED AT LAURA RICCIARDI€™S BRAILLE-COVERED PIANO in Tribeca Park, featuring blind and visually impaired musicians from Visionary Media.

Blind and visually-impaired musicians took the stage for a concert around the “Undiscovered” Piano in Tribeca Park.The Piano in Far Rockaway, meanwhile, served as a gathering point for a SINGALONG WITH SENIORS FROM JASA. Many participants had lost everything in Sandy, including one musician who lost her piano and got to play a few tunes.

JASA seniors in Far Rockaway were thrilled to spend a musical afternoon by the beach.Whether seeing spirits lifted as patients and caretakers experience a Volunteer Artist performance, witnessing our young students lift their voices in rehearsal, or observing the many meaningful interactions that happen around the Pianos, we are constantly reminded of how the arts bring greater health, happiness, and well-being to communities. Below, check out some of the ways you can get involved, and join us in making arts access a reality for all!