Before I Die, I Want To…

by M-Gillies

Anyone can write down their hopes and dreams for their life on Cindy Chang's "Before I die" wall.

For many of us, death is an inspiration for life. It’s that looming expiration of mortality that lingers in the backs of everyone’s mind and while it’s been suggested that the world is just too big for one lifetime, it hasn’t stopped us from considering the things we want to accomplish. For that, we’ve been given an endless amount of suggestions of things to do, books to read, movies to watch, places to visit, songs to hear, all before we die. And while all of these things can be included in a personal bucket list, for designer, urban planner and artist Candy Chang, the creation of the “Before I die” wall in New Orleans saw its influence as a question after the loss of someone she loved very much.

Created as an interactive public art project that transforms neglected spaces into constructive space, the “Before I die” wall was created as a place where people can share what is important to them. Using a blighted property at the corner of Marigny and Burgundy Streets in New Orleans, and plastered with a chalkboard painted plywood wall with the stencilled words “Before I die, I want to” gave people living in the city an opportunity to share their dreams, hopes, desires and goals they wish to accomplish.

With a background in architecture and graphic design, Chang was formerly a resident in Finland, however after several people close to her suddenly died, she quit her job and moved to New Orleans, a place where she had always wanted to live.

“It made me think about what’s really important to me in my life,” Chang said.

While the project itself was driven as a means of redefining public space for the greater good, public response to the project became overwhelming. By the end of the first day of being installed, the stencilled lines were filled with the hopes and dreams of many who saw it.

“I never expected such an amazing outpouring of responses so quickly,” said Chang. “Within 24 hours, the entire wall was completely filled out. And the responses range from humorous to overwhelmingly thoughtful, from “be a YouTube sensation” to “go 200mph” to “be completely myself”. I hear that people are gathering at the house and it’s stopping traffic. I’m blown away.”

While the board is washed and cleaned regularly to allow new responses to be applied, every response on the board is documented and will be included in a future book that will expand upon the project’s idea.

“It’s been very fun to watch this whole wall change every single day,” Chang said. “You see some really beautiful wonderful new things up here about what people want to do before they die.”

In the meantime, Chang hopes to expand to more cities, asking that followers of the work suggest locations for future installations. However, for those fans looking to re-create the piece in their own cities, Chang is offering a how-to-kit with “Before I die” walls popping up in cities across the world such as, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands, Mexico, Portugal and Canada.

And while some of the comments range from comical to heartfelt messages, there is always a fear of people abusing the space for lewd comments. However, Chang assures that for her wall in New Orleans, that won’t be a problem.

“That’s the most common push-back I get on these projects when I try to get permission from community groups,” Chang said. “They’re often afraid that it might draw lewd comments. I always assure them I’ll monitor it every day. We do get some inappropriate comments, but really much fewer than anybody expects. To me, it’s worth a few penis doodles if that means there’s that much more constructive input from the community. All of these projects are experiments, full of unknowns. But it’s a shame if the fear of graffiti trumps the desire for more constructive community input.”

The reclaimed building where the "Before I die" project was started. Kits are available on line to help you start a project in your own area.

Below are some of just a small handful of messages left by people who have visited the board:

Before I die I want to know that love is possible <3

Before I die I want to feel complete

Before I die I want to have enough time to really live

Before I die I want to make things right

Before I die I want to travel around the world

Before I die I want to be as great of a mom as my own

Before I die I want to find and slay a dragon…

Before I die I want to prove that my past doesn’t define me…

Before I die I want to inspire someone

Before I die I want to do something truly heroic

Before I die I want to drive a Ferrari… Very fast

Before I die I want to know and experience answers to mysteries of what we call the universe

Before I die I want to own a bonsai tree

Before I die I want to meet an alien

Before I die I want to accept death…

Read More:

Before I Die | A Project by Cindy Chang


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