Before I Die is a participatory public art project that invites people to contemplate death, reflect on life, and share their personal aspirations in public. After the death of someone she loved, Chang channeled her grief and depression into this project on an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood to restore perspective and find some consolation with her neighbors. She covered the crumbling house with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with the prompt, “Before I die I want to _____.” The wall quickly filled up with responses and kept growing: Before I die I want to… see my daughter graduate, sing for millions, abandon all insecurities, get my wife back, eat more everything, be someone’s cavalry, straddle the International Date Line, tell my mother I love her, be completely myself. People’s hopes and dreams made her laugh out loud, tear up, and feel consolation during some of her toughest times. She understood her neighbors in new and enlightening ways, and she remembered that she is not alone as she tries to make sense of her life. The Atlantic called it, “one of the most creative community projects ever.”
Thanks to passionate people around the world, over 2,000 Before I Die walls have now been created in over 70 countries, including Iraq, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and South Africa. Revealing the community’s longings, anxieties, joys, and struggles, the project explores how public space can cultivate self-examination and empathy among neighbors and compassionately prepare us for death and grief. It has also inspired dozens of remixes that offer new ways to engage with the people around us. The Before I Die book is a celebration of these walls and the stories behind them. See more on the project site and follow the latest Before I Die walls and reflections on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
2011, New Orleans, LA. Chalkboard paint, spray paint, chalk, abandoned house. 41′ x 8′. With permission from the property owner, residents of the block, the neighborhood association’s blight committee, the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the Arts Council of New Orleans, and the City Planning Commission. Installation assistance by Kristina Kassem, Cory Klemmer, Anamaria Vizcaino, James Reeves, Alan Williams, Alex Vialou, Earl Carlson, and Gary Hustwit.