‘Piano man’ of Washington Square Park faces persistent vandalism

The longtime street performer, who has been unhoused since 2021, has faced added financial difficulties in recent months due to vandalism by parkgoers.


Kevin Wu

File photo: Colin Huggins playing his piano in October 2022. (Courtesy of Kevin Wu)

Hope Pisoni, Staff Writer

On a sunny afternoon in late March, NYU first-year Tricia Manada was walking past the iconic Steinway baby grand piano that often sits in Washington Square Park’s east side. As she walked by, she heard a loud crash, and turned to see the cover of the piano thrown on the ground, surrounded by a group of snickering teens.

When Manada confronted the group about the vandalism, she said they seemed surprised, but not apologetic. Manada said she has been fond of the park pianist since her arrival at NYU, and has even had the chance to play the piano herself.

“They were trying to act like ‘Oh, oops,’” Manada said. “I think they felt bad, but it was just probably because I called them out on it … like they don’t want to get in trouble.”

Manada took a photograph of the teens surrounding the piano, which WSN reviewed. It shows a group of three young people — presumably “kids,” according to Manada — laughing after taking the lid off of the piano. The lid of the piano is laying on the sidewalk. Manada said that at least two people ran away shortly before she captured the photo.

The piano’s owner, Colin Huggins, colloquially known as the “piano man” of Washington Square Park, said that his piano has been vandalized many other times over the last few months. Huggins, who is houseless and often sleeps on the piano, said that its keys have been splattered with paint and his piano bench has been broken, among other instances of vandalism.

“Every time I’d walk away from the piano and come back to it, either just to use the restroom or to get some food, I’d always come back to the piano and find something broken or something taken or something vandalized,” Huggins said.

Huggins said that instances of vandalism have increased in frequency recently, as the piano has been stored outdoors. He has lost access to storage spaces for the piano he used in the past due to conflicts with building owners over his cleaning methods, according to The Village Sun. Huggins, disliking “harsh chemicals,” typically uses substances such as baking soda and arrowroot to clean the ground under his piano, a habit that frustrated his landlords due to the mess it caused.

Huggins said he has caught numerous people in the act — usually young people — and claimed that many of them were wearing the signature purple NYU lanyard. He said that he spoke to NYU Campus Safety officers at Pless Hall, which is just across the street from where he keeps the piano, about the issue, but no action has been taken to prevent further vandalism.

“Personally, what I get from both the police and from NYU security is that they both don’t like me and don’t care about me and they wish I would just disappear,” Huggins said. “I don’t really get the impression from either one that they have any good feelings about me whatsoever.”

NYU spokesperson John Beckman denied that the university had received any reports of the piano being vandalized.

“We are, of course, sorry to learn of the difficulties Mr. Huggins has been confronting. That said, the Campus Safety Department finds no records of any reports of vandalism directed at the piano,” Beckman said.

Huggins said that due to increased vandalism, exposure to the elements, and carelessness from some of the people he allows to play it, the piano’s condition has suffered, requiring him to spend time, energy and money getting it refurbished. He estimated that back when he used to store his piano at a Manhattan Mini Storage location, as well as pay for help moving the piano and maintenance expenses, he would spend about $3,000 to $4,000 per month on the instrument — which he said is no longer sustainable.

Even now, without paying for storage, upkeep remains expensive on its own. Technicians in the area charge $150 per hour for tuning and maintenance. One-time costs, such as for replacing a broken piano bench or broken strings, can quickly add up when damage is so frequent. 

Donations from people passing through the park, received through a Patreon account where he posts exclusive content, help sustain Huggins. While the Patreon does not publicly display how much money he receives, he says that he’s been making about $2,000 per month after deducting transaction and platform fees.

Huggins said that financial insecurity and vandalism have deeply affected him, leaving him struggling to maintain his livelihood. Despite this, he said he still loves the park community.

“I really do love this place,” Huggins said. “I love all the people in it, and I want it to be healthy, and I want it to be happy. It’s just that getting past this dark place that we’re in now is gonna take some time.”

Manada, the student who witnessed the vandalism, said that she was saddened by the public’s mistreatment of the instrument. She added that she thinks students and parkgoers should be expected to be on better behavior.

“You should be respecting the area that you live in,” Manada said. “I feel like, as citizens and people, we have access to that park all the time, so it would make sense that we should be respecting the other people around us, as a university that does hold power and does have a voice.”

Contact Hope Pisoni at [email protected].