Malek Jandali is quietly tapping out the melody of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on a baby grand his nonprofit, Pianos for Peace, has just delivered to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The familiar lullaby may seem a bit elementary for an artist of Jandali’s renown, but entirely appropriate given the unifying mission of the organization he founded four years ago.

“We strive to transform lives and communities by making the arts accessible to all,” Jandali says via phone. “Our mission is to build peace through music and education.”

Pianos for Peace Founder and CEO Malek Jandali on the Atlanta BeltLine.

The piano he’s playing is one of 88 to be donated to the Atlanta community this year – and one of five funded by The Coca-Cola Company and its local bottling partners at Coca-Cola UNITED. The instruments will pop up in parks, transit stations and other high-traffic public spaces during the annual Pianos for Peace Festival (Sept. 1-22), where they will be played and enjoyed by an estimated half-million residents and visitors before finding forever homes in underserved schools, nursing homes, healthcare facilities and community centers. The Fulton County Arts & Culture Council tapped volunteer artists to hand-paint the pianos with bright colors, each with its own unique expression of peace.

A crowd gathers to watch an impromptu performance in Atlanta's Piedmont Park.

Jandali, a German-born, Syrian-American pianist who has performed with orchestras around the world and composed several modern classical works, drew inspiration from his international travels to launch Pianos for Peace in his hometown of Atlanta.

“I saw beautiful public art everywhere from New York to Paris to Moscow,” he said. “But I realized that public art doesn’t usually engage the public. I knew I wanted these beautifully painted pianos to be out in the streets to unite, inspire and engage people. After all, ‘unity’ is part of the word ‘community’ and, as an American artist, it’s my duty to give back to the community.”

Pianos for Peace relies on donor support to purchase or contribute pianos, and cover storage, transportation and tuning costs. Volunteer artists hand-paint the instruments with their own uniquely colorful expressions of peace.

Pianos for Peace invites anyone and everyone to start conversations, to sit down and play a tune, and to make memories. The instruments are designed to catch both eyes and ears with a refreshingly unexpected spectacle – colorfully painted pianos in free, outdoor spaces – and to be touched, played, photographed and shared.

“People are not just passing by these pianos... they’re meant to be experienced,” said Jandali, a noted philanthropist who received the 2014 Global Music Humanitarian Award for his advocacy for peace and human rights. “We’re showing that music can be a magical, unifying force.”

He adds, “In fact, since we’ve been speaking, six people have played this piano.”

Coca-Cola employee Marisa Cerban with one of two baby grands she painted this year for Pianos for Peace. The visual artist has volunteered her time to paint six Pianos for Peace over the last four years.

Pianos for Peace “completes the circle” by bringing the beautiful instruments to organizations in need at the end of the festival. The pianos will be used as part of music therapy sessions, school music programs and more.

“Many people think they disappear after a few weeks,” Jandali says. “But they don’t… they go places where they can have even greater impact.”

Pianos for Peace find homes in schools, nursing homes and other Atlanta-area organizations in need at the end of the September festival.

Marisa Cerban, a Coca-Cola North America employee and visual artist, has painted six Pianos for Peace over the last four years, including two in 2019. Her designs incorporated Coca-Cola colors and were inspired by the brand’s 2019 Big Game ad, which reminded Americans that togetherness – and differences – are beautiful.

Cerban, who was born in Uruguay and spent most of her life in Argentina before moving to the U.S. in 2004, said using a piano as a blank canvas is both creatively fulfilling and emotionally rewarding.

“Seeing how a piano touches passers-by in a public space – and how happy students are when you bring one to their school – is an incredible feeling and a testament to the power of music,” she said. “This is not about aesthetics. It’s about providing tools for education and community building.”

Cerban’s Coca-Cola colleagues had the opportunity to collaborate with her on a white baby grand she painted by adding drawings and inspirational messages for students at nearby Booker T. Washington High School, where it will be delivered this fall.

A traveler at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport stops to play a tune on a Pianos for Peace baby grand funded by Coca-Cola.

“Malek and Pianos for Peace believe that music and art bring people together, and we believe Coca-Cola brings people together,” said Vincenzo Piscopo, director of community and stakeholder relations, Coca-Cola North America. “Our shared values, and our mutual commitment to our hometown of Atlanta, make this partnership a natural fit.” 

Jandali agrees. “Having Coca-Cola as our neighbors is a true blessing," he said. "We’re thrilled to collaborate on such a timely and meaningful project, and hope to get as many people joining forces with us at the right time for the right reason.

"This is an open invitation for everyone to join our symphony for peace. The word ‘symphony’ means ‘to sing together’, and that’s what we will witness this year – the largest symphony for peace Atlanta has ever seen."

Download the Pianos for Peace mobile app (Apple / Android) to find out where to find a painted piano throughout metro Atlanta. Each piano has its own page with location information, photos, artist bios and more.