Before I Die

Drawing upon Michel de Montaigne’s proposition that “to philosophize is to learn to die,” the Before I Die project examines the ways the walls of our cities can help us grapple with death and meaning as a community today. After the death of someone she loved, Candy Chang struggled with grief and depression. She covered a crumbling house in her neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with the prompt, “Before I die I want to _____,” in hopes of restoring perspective and learning what was important to the people around her. Anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on death and life, and share their personal aspirations in public.

By the next day, the wall was entirely filled out and it kept growing: Before I die I want to… see my daughter graduate, sing for millions, abandon all insecurities, get my wife back, be someone’s cavalry, tell my mother I love her, make a livable wage, follow my childhood dream, have a student come back and tell me it mattered, hold her one more time, live off the grid, be completely myself. The Atlantic called it, “one of the most creative community projects ever,” and thanks to passionate people around the world, over 5,000 Before I Die walls have now been created by communities in over 75 countries, including Iraq, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and South Africa.

In an age of increasing distractions, these participatory installations serve as a memento mori for individuals to reflect upon mortality and meaning with neighbors and passersby. Each response represents an individual’s unique desires and values, and each wall offers a snapshot of our shared anxieties and hopes, our collective joys and struggles. By creating spaces where everyone can anonymously share their inner lives, Before I Die offers an intimate and honest view of the people around us that can offer consolation and fellowship. The project has also inspired dozens of remixes that offer new ways to engage with the people around us. Learn more on the Before I Die website and the Before I Die book that Publishers Weekly called “a powerful and valuable reminder that life is for the living, and it’s never too late, or too early, to join the party.”

 

2011 – present, New Orleans, LA – worldwide. 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.

Santiago, Chile. Photo by Bernd Biedermann
Tokyo, Japan
Lagos. Nigeria. Photo by Dara Olayebi.
Najaf, Iraq. Photo by Ahmed Alameri.
Brooklyn, NY, USA. Photo by Shake Shack.
Townsville, Australia. Photo by Kim Kamo.
Bangkok, Thailand
Budapest, Hungary
Cordoba, Argentina. Photo by Jenny Carden.
Savannah, GA, USA. Photo by Trevor Coe.
Beer-Sheva, Israel
Perm, Russia. Photo by Perm Artillery Museum.
Nilai, Malaysia
Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Photo by Candy Chang.