Weather Forecast


Vandalism brings off note for downtown Fargo's public piano project

In this photo provided by Susanne Williams, the public piano on Broadway is seen Saturday after it was tipped over.1 / 2
Susanne Williams is seen Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, with a piano she decorated at Uptown Gallery in downtown Fargo. Forum file photo2 / 2

Uptown Gallery executive director Susanne Williams found Saturday morning that the first exhibit of her public art project at 72 Broadway had been pushed over and walked on. Williams painted the feline-themed piano herself and had watched people enjoy playing it since its installation 10 days before.

“We got it put back upright with the help of the police department,” Williams said.

But then during Saturday night’s rainstorm, someone removed the tarp that Williams put on the piano for protection, and now the keys are stuck.

“It will probably go to the dump, because it doesn’t work, it doesn’t play,” she said.

Police cameras in downtown Fargo are located at Broadway and NP Avenue, about a block from the gallery. One camera points toward where the vandalism occurred, but Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel wasn’t confident Monday about finding anything useful on the video.

“We’ll be checking those cameras, but it’s … a very busy area, and we don’t have a lot of information at this point to look at,” he said. “Unfortunately, those random acts of damage to property are very difficult for us to solve.”

Williams already has lined up a replacement piano, which will appear within the next couple of days. It will be in the same spot, but Williams is hoping for more security.

A cable secured the previous piano to an iron bench, and she thinks there might be a better way to attach it, such as driving in metal stakes at the back.

She also suggested getting a police camera to focus on the piano area. The police do not have plans to expand their downtown camera system, Vettel said.

Vettel said public art tends to draw this kind of negative attention. When the painted bison first went up, people defaced those.

“Anytime there’s some sort of unique item that people recognize, for whatever reason it does attract the attention of people and oftentimes it’s people who are intoxicated, and they choose to damage items that are easily accessible to them,” Vettel said.

Williams emphasized that the vandalism reflected the actions of a few, but she said it is the responsibility of everyone to hold the wrongdoers accountable.

“I don’t want our community to be defined by the acts of a few people behaving poorly,” she said. “In order for us to move forward, we’ve got to make it unacceptable for drunken, ridiculous behavior to happen.”

Williams plans to again paint the new piano. She’s not sure what theme will inspire her this time.

“I’m gonna see what kind of direction the paintbrush wants to go,” she said.

A second piano will join the replacement instrument downtown as soon as it gets approval from a sidewalk marketing committee.

This one was crowd-painted at Uptown Gallery’s Corks & Canvas event on Aug. 14, and it’s covered in multicolored polka dots stamped on by wine corks.

Williams said the instrument is being stored at c.lizzy’s until the committee approves its move to the 400 block of Broadway.

The piano will be attached to a light pole, and it will not be possible to push it over.

In part due to the vandalism and in part because she was already thinking about it, Williams on Monday began the process of launching a campaign on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter.

She plans to start with a small goal of $1,000 and use donations for art supplies and the cost of moving pianos. The pianos themselves are donated. If the campaign raises enough, it would go toward paying the artists, she said.

“People love this concept, and I want to keep it going,” she said.

Williams said she’s not deterred by what happened this weekend.

“If anything, I’m more motivated,” she said.

The link to the Kickstarter fundraising campaign will be posted on

Grace Lyden

Grace Lyden is the higher education reporter for The Forum. Previously, she interned at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism in 2014. She welcomes story ideas via email or phone. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

(701) 241-5502