Before I Die
What is important to you 2011-present
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, the people I want to be with, and the things I want to do, 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@example.com!
“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.
Candy Chang is an artist, designer, and urban planner who explores making cities more comfortable and contemplative places. She believes in the potential of introspection and collective wisdom in public space to improve our communities and help us lead better lives.
Recent projects include Before I Die, where she transformed an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans into an interactive wall for people to share their hopes and dreams -- a project The Atlantic called “one of the most creative community projects ever.” Other projects include I Wish This Was, a street art project that invites people to voice what they want in vacant storefronts, and Neighborland, an online tool that helps people self-organize and shape the development of their communities. She is a TED Senior Fellow, an Urban Innovation Fellow, and was named a “Live Your Best Life” Local Hero by Oprah magazine. By combining street art with urban planning and social activism, she has been recognized as a leader in developing new strategies for the design of our cities. She is co-founder of Civic Center, an art and design studio in New Orleans. See more at candychang.com.
“Preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life.”