Construction sites often send neighbors into a flurry of complaints about the noise that’s taking over their block. Not this one.
At the construction site for the new Shake Shack in Brooklyn, the owners took a cue from artist Candy Chang and turned the plywood wall into a participatory public art installation. It is one of the latest incarnations of Chang’s “Before I Die” project, wherein passerby are invited to fill in the blanks on the large chalkboard wall with their dreams and aspirations.
Chang describes herself as an artist “who makes cities more comfortable for people.” She initially asked herself the same question after experiencing a difficult time of loss in her life. With a passion for redefining how we use public space to engage in dialogue for local and personal change, Chang transformed an abandoned house in her neighborhood into an interactive bucket list. It’s a particularly poignant affirmation in New Orleans, where neglected spaces still stand as visual reminders the loss from Hurricane Katrina. Chang says she was amazed and moved by the responses, which filled up the wall after just a day.
Since then, she’s created a toolkit for folks to replicate the project in their own communities. Walls have been popping up everywhere from New Hampshire to San Diego to places as far as Kazakhstan, Amsterdam, the Azores, Mexico, and Portugal.
Yesterday and today, as part of their Día de los Muertos celebration, the artist collective Toctoc of Nuevo León, Mexico has put up a couple of “Antes de morir” walls around Monterrey—apparently, they weren’t even done with the stenciling as people started scribbling up their answers.
Claiming a piece of public space is a powerful reminder that if these walls could talk, it would be in the voices of the folks who walk these streets, ride these buses to work and school, pass each other by and perhaps wonder what’s on the next person’s mind. “Before I Die” gives us a candid glimpse in colored chalk.
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