As 2013 draws to a close, we’re taking some time to pay homage to Idealists who’ve made a commitment to doing good across 365 days.
What do you want to do before you die?
It’s a question that can make even the most certain of us uncomfortable. It makes us reflect on both what we’ve done with our lives and what we haven’t, and forces us to confront our mortality. We won’t be here forever.
But artist and urban designer Candy Chang knows it’s a question that can also make us do something about all of our unfulfilled dreams and desires.
Inspired by a mother figure who passed away in 2011, Candy stenciled “Before I die I want to _____” on an abandoned house in her home city of New Orleans. Anybody who walked by could pick up a piece a chalk and make their personal aspirations public. The results were heartfelt and humorous—and the project exploded around the world.
At their greatest, our public spaces can nourish our well-being and help us see that we’re not alone as we try to make sense of our lives. They can help us grieve together and be alone together. Each passerby is another person full of longing, anxiety, fear, and wonder. With more ways to share in public space, the people around us not only help us make better places, they can help us become our best selves.
Knowing that there were vacant lots, campuses, construction sites, and more waiting to be transformed into community spaces around the world, Candy created a toolkit so that anyone anywhere could do the same. Walls that took months to plan and build started going up from South Dakota to Capetown to South Korea. To date, there have been 400 walls in over 60 countries.
It was a beautiful example of an idea spreading. And people continue to pick up chalk and write.
This past year, Candy compiled some of her favorite walls and the stories of how they came to be into one book. It’s a breathtaking account of our humanity in all its hope, humor, sorrow, joy, and longing. I read the entire book on a recent flight across the country. Not even 30 Rock reruns could make me put it down.
Before I die I want to dance in every country in the world. What do you want to do?