Local teens create hand-painted piano in support of nonprofit

Liam Koett sits at Liberty Station in Point Loma with the piano he hand-painted as a project with friend Makena Stumpo.
Liam Koett sits at Liberty Station in Point Loma with the piano he hand-painted as a project with longtime friend Makena Stumpo.
(Megan Koett)

Liberty Station is hosting the art-covered piano called ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ created by musician Makena Stumpo and artist Liam Koett in a collaboration with Sing for Hope.


Two local teenagers who unveiled a hand-painted piano at Liberty Station in Point Loma are looking to place it in a permanent home.

Makena Stumpo, a musician, and Liam Koett, an artist, paired up to create the piano art, titled “Here Comes the Sun,” for Sing for Hope, a New York-based nonprofit.

Sing for Hope runs a global arts initiative that produces artist-designed pianos, places them in public spaces for anyone to play and then donates them to hospitals, schools, care facilities, refugee camps, transit hubs and community organizations worldwide.

Makena initiated the collaboration with Sing for Hope last year while a student at Pacific Beach Middle School, which had a requirement to participate in local community service through a project.

“I play local gigs [and] I was in L.A. and I saw an installation with 16 pianos from Sing for Hope,” he said. “I ... played on 14 of them, which was really awesome. After that, I went into eighth grade and knew we had a project to choose ... to help the community.”

Given his love for music, an idea immediately sparked in Makena’s mind.

“I reached out [to Sing for Hope] and thought I was going to get an immediate ‘no,’ but they got back to me and said they would love to work with me, which was incredible,” he said.

Liam Koett (left) and Makena Stumpo show the piano they later turned into an artwork.
(Megan Koett)

After establishing the plans to work with Sing for Hope, Makena found it a natural fit to recruit Liam, his longtime friend and a student at Warren-Walker Middle School.

“I have known Liam since I was 1. Our families have always been friends, and from the beginning I knew I wanted him to be the artist,” Makena said.

They got the piano from a friend of Liam’s, who had it via a local junk-hauling service.

Liam did all the paintings that adorn the piano. Images of popular San Diego destinations cover the exterior.

The art-covered piano by Makena Stumpo and Liam Koett features many images of San Diego.
(Megan Koett)

“I was super excited to do this, and it took hundreds of hours of work,” Liam said. “Before this, I had never done anything that was up for public display, but I have always done lots of cartoon-style character doodles.”

“You can sit and look at it for hours and pick out little things you never noticed,” Makena said. “I keep seeing new things every day. Just the other day I noticed the surf shack from Windansea [in La Jolla] on there. He did a really good job.”

Liam said he’s “very proud of the center part of the piano, the biggest area with the sun painting.”

The piano was unveiled July 29 at Liberty Station to be displayed through August near Building 202 on Dewey Road. The teens are looking to find it a forever home.

“It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game of me reaching out to people,” Makena said. “It is funny; I thought it would be the easiest part of the project. I mean, who doesn’t want a piano?”

“You can sit and look at [the piano] for hours and pick out little things you never noticed. I keep seeing new things every day.”

— Makena Stumpo

In November, Makena was honored in the category of performing arts as one of San Diego County’s 25 “Most Remarkable Teens” for 2022 by the county public defender’s office.

Makena is entering Mission Bay High School and Liam is a freshman at Cathedral Catholic High.

The piano project is the first of what Makena hopes will be many opportunities to give to the San Diego community.

“When I am older, I would love to do one of these projects again,” he said. “It really does take up a lot of time though. I started this project last August and we are still not fully wrapped up with it.”


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