Artist Candy Chang uses her creative powers to connect her New Orleans neighbors to their own dreams and to each other.
The unexpected death of a close friend caused Chang to reflect on what really matters in life. One result: She turned an abandoned house in her neighborhood into a giant chalkboard. She stenciled it with the sentence, “Before I die, I want to ______.” Passersby were provided chalk and invited to fill in the blanks. Surprisingly, in one day, they had filled out the entire wall—with specific hopes, aspirations, dreams. “This neglected space became a constructive one,” says Chang in a recent TED talk. “And people’s hopes and dreams made me laugh out loud, tear up, and they consoled me during my own tough times.”
In a brief TED talk, she asks, “How can we share more of our hopes for our vacant storefronts so our communities can reflect our needs and dreams today?”
Interest in Candy Chang’s wall quickly spread to cities around the world. She even created a toolkit you can order.
A year ago, a student at the Clinton School of Public Service brought the idea from her New Orleans to Little Rock, where our own half-abandoned Main Street cried out for a bit of human connection. A small group converted the corner of a long empty building into a “Before I Die” chalkboard.
It was an instant hit. I watched as business women, homeless people, lost tourists and others walked by and momentarily caught themselves thinking: What is something I’d like to do in my life? What’s important? What’s fun, what’s adventure, what’s meaningful? Among the wonderful bucket list items, many people, myself included, wanted to see the building come to life again.
About a week ago, the chalkboard was taken down. Not just the building but the entire block is being renovated. And half of a nearby block is undergoing a $20 million re-do. Other smaller projects are also underway. A couple of days ago I ran into Sharon, who helped make our wall happen. While we’re both excited about the development, we were sad about losing the chalkboard. We thought of putting it somewhere else, but no abandoned spot immediately came to mind—which is a good problem!
So thanks, Candy Chang, for helping Little Rock dream out loud.