Before I Die

October 15, 2012

Source: Candy Chang

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 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 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 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!


“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.



The first stencil


First responses

Within 24 hours of stenciling the wall.

Kristina Kassem Once the wall was filled to the max or looking janky, we washed it down and started over again.

Take a piece of the dream home with you with a limited edition painting! More here.

Update Sept 22, 2011: After seven months, the first wall comes to a happy end: the house will be turned into a home again thanks to new owners. We painted over the wall and stenciled one last thing – something Wendell Pierce said a few months ago that has stayed with Candy since: “Our thoughts are to the individual as our art is to the community.” It was ready to go but from the ashes come more.

Update Sept 22, 2011: After receiving many requests, we created a Before I Die toolkit to help people make a wall with their community! It includes a one-column stencil in thick mylar so that it is easy to hang rigid without buckling. It also includes a title stencil, guide, metal chalk holders, nails, gloves, and chalk. All files are also available for download if you’d like to create your own stencils.

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Brooklyn. Photo above by Shake Shack

Brooklyn. Photo above by Shake Shack

Johannesburg. Photo from

Savannah. Photo above by Trevor Coe

Querétaro, Mexico

Thanks to your passion, this participatory public art project is expanding to countries around the world, including Kazakhstan, Mexico, Italy, Australia, Portugal, Argentina, and beyond! See other walls on the project site and follow BeforeIDieWall on Twitter for the latest news. Have you created a Before I Die wall or remix? Please send your photos and stories to!

“Death can inspire life. Especially in New Orleans, on the corner of Marigny and Burgundy, where the Before I Die project has used the specter of urban decay and death to create art and inspire. Using a boarded up house as a canvas, artist Candy Chang transformed a haunting reminder of blight and divestment into a powerful affirmation of human life and imagination.” – Life and Times

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