Before I Die

Before I Die reimagines how the walls of our cities can help us grapple with mortality and meaning as a community today. After the death of someone she loved, Chang painted an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood with chalkboard paint and stenciled the prompt, “Before I die I want to ___,” to restore perspective and find consolation with her neighbors. 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, be completely myself. 

The Atlantic called it, “one of the most creative community projects ever,” and after receiving requests from people around the world who wanted to make a wall with their community, Chang made online resources for residents to create their own. 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. Chang’s 2012 TED talk about Before I Die has been viewed over five million times and translated into over 40 languages. A memento mori for the modern age, the installation reimagines our relationship with death and with one another in the public realm. Learn more on the Before I Die website.

2011 – present, New Orleans, Louisiana and worldwide. Chalkboard paint, spray paint, chalk. 8′ h x 41′ w. 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.

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