It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you. When I lost someone I loved very much, I thought about death a lot. This helped clarify my life but I struggled to maintain perspective. I wanted to know what was important to the people around me and I wanted a daily reminder. So with help from old and new friends, I painted the side of an abandoned house in my neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with the sentence “Before I die I want to _______.” so anyone walking by can pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in public space.
It was all an experiment and I didn’t know what to expect. By the next day the wall was entirely filled out and it kept growing. Before I die I want to… sing for millions, see my daughter graduate, eat all the candy and sushi in the world, straddle the International Date Line, be someone’s cavalry, live off the grid, build a school, hold her one more time, abandon all insecurities, be completely myself… People’s responses made me laugh out loud, tear up, and feel consolation during my own tough times. The wall transformed a neglected space into a constructive one. It helped us understand our neighbors in new and enlightening ways. It showed us we are not alone. It provided a contemplative space to restore perspective and remember why we want to be alive in the world today.
I created the original wall in February of 2011 and after receiving hundreds of requests, my Civic Center colleagues and I created a Before I Die toolkit and the project site beforeidie.cc to help people make a wall with their community. You can also download all files for free to remix or create your own stencils. Thanks to passionate people, over 50 Before I Die walls have been created in over 10 languages and in over 20 countries, including Kazakhstan, South Africa, Portugal, Japan, and Argentina. Each wall is unique and reflects the people of that community and each wall is a tribute to living an examined life. The project shows you don’t need a big budget to make a big impact. It also pushes the boundaries of what our public spaces are fundamentally made of. With more ways to share our hopes, fears, and stories in public space, the people around us can not only help us make better places, they can help us lead better lives.
Visit the project website beforeidie.cc for more walls, tools, and resources to make your own wall! FollowBeforeIDieWall on Twitter for the latest news. Have you created a Before I Die wall or remix? Please send your photos and stories to [email protected]!
“One of the most creative community projects ever.” – The Atlantic
Developed with support from the Black Rock Arts Foundation. February 2011 and beyond. 41′ x 8′, Chalkboard paint, stencils, spray paint, chalk. New Orleans, LA. With permission from the property owner, residents of the block, the neighborhood association’s blight committee, the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the Arts Council, and the City Planning Commission. Installation assistance: Kristina Kassem, Alan Williams, Cory Klemmer, Anamaria Vizcaino, James Reeves, Alex Vialou, Earl Carlson, and Gary Hustwit. You have permission to use photos below for publicity of the project. Photos by Civic Center, unless credited otherwise.
Thanks to your passion, this participatory public art project is expanding to countries around the world, including Kazakhstan, Mexico, Italy, Australia, Portugal, Argentina, and beyond! See other walls on the project site www.beforeidie.cc and follow BeforeIDieWall on Twitter for the latest news. Have you created a Before I Die wall or remix? Please send your photos and stories to [email protected]!
“Death can inspire life. Especially in New Orleans, on the corner of Marigny and Burgundy, where the Before I Die project has used the specter of urban decay and death to create art and inspire. Using a boarded up house as a canvas, artist Candy Chang transformed a haunting reminder of blight and divestment into a powerful affirmation of human life and imagination.” – Life and Times