Before I Die

A global art project that invites people to contemplate mortality and share their personal aspirations in public.

Drawing upon Michel de Montaigne’s proposition that “to philosophize is to learn to die,” the Before I Die project reimagines the ways the walls of our cities can help us grapple with death and meaning as a community today. Candy Chang created the first Before I Die wall on an abandoned house in New Orleans after the death of someone she loved. Joan was like a mother to her for fifteen years and there were still so many things she wanted to do: learn to play the piano, live in France, see the Pacific Ocean. The shock of her death sent Chang into a long period of grief and depression. Her inner world didn’t feel like it belonged outside at all and, looking at the messages she saw when walking down the street, she noticed how much we avoid confronting death.

Candy Chang creating the first stencil

She made a homemade stencil that said, “Before I die I want to _____,” and with help from old and new friends, she painted the side of a crumbling house in her neighborhood with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with this prompt so that anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on death and life, and share their personal aspirations in public.

It was an experiment and she didn’t know what to expect. Because it was cheap to make, she thought it wasn’t a big deal if it didn’t work out.

New Orleans, Louisiana

By the next day, the wall was filled with responses bursting into the margins: Before I die I want to… follow my childhood dream, see my daughter graduate, abandon all insecurities, straddle the International Date Line, get my wife back, see my students become teachers, be ok with not understanding, be someone’s cavalry, hold her one more time, be completely myself. The gamut of humanity was on full display, and the wall became an honest mess of the longing, pain, joy, insecurity, gratitude, fear, and wonder you find in every community. As she read through the responses, Candy understood her neighbors in new ways and she was reminded that she was not alone as she tried to make sense of life.

This neglected space had become a constructive one where strangers who ordinarily had little to do with one another began taking care of it. Some people donated chalk while others helped wash the wall. Neighbors introduced themselves while reading through the day’s responses. “People are around all the time,” said the grandmother who lived across the street. “The block is safer now.”

The wall in New Orleans lasted for most of 2011 and it ended for the happiest of reasons: a new owner rebuilt the property and the house became a home again. But this wasn’t the end of the project. Candy received hundreds of unexpected messages from people around the world who wanted to make a wall with their communities. So she created step-by-step resources for people to create their own walls and thanks to passionate people around the world, there are now over 4,000 Before I Die walls in over 75 countries and 36 languages. You can view a full list of countries at the bottom of this page.

These participatory installations serve as an accessible memento mori where we can reflect upon our mortality with neighbors and passersby. Each response represents an individual’s unique desires and values, and each wall offers a snapshot of our shared anxieties and hopes, our collective joys and struggles. By creating spaces where we can share our inner lives in public, Before I Die reimagines the ways we remember what really matters in an age of increasing distraction and flux.

If you’re interested in creating a wall, find out how to get started at the Before I Die website, which also includes an archive of selected walls around the world. This project has also inspired dozens of remixes that offer new ways to engage with the people around us.

As I Age

Nashville, Tennessee

Happiness Is

Nairobi, Kenya

I Run Because

San Francisco

When I Graduate

Atlanta

Lebanon Would Be Better If

Beirut, Lebanon

Energy Enables

Brussels, Belgium

I Go Downtown Because

Tacoma, Washington

My Dream Is

Rio de Janeiro

Today I'm Grateful For

Vancouver

I Love Heraklion Because

Heraklion, Greece

I Design Because

San Francisco

If You Knew Me

Atlanta

Responses from Around the World

Over

4,000

Walls

In

78

Countries

And

36

Languages

Africa
Kenya
Nigeria
South Africa

Asia
Armenia
Azerbaijan
China
India
Iran
Iraq
Israel
Japan
Kazakhstan
Kuwait
Kyrgyzstan
Lebanon
Malaysia
Pakistan
Philippines
Russia
Saudi Arabia
Singapore
South Korea
Taiwan
Thailand
United Arab Emirates

Australia & Oceania
Australia
Fiji
New Zealand

europe
Austria
Belgium
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bulgaria
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Georgia
Germany
Hungary
Ireland
Italy
Kosovo
Latvia
Lithuania
Macedonia
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Serbia
Slovakia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
Ukraine
United Kingdom

north america
Canada
Costa Rica
Cuba
Dominican Republic
Guatemala
Haiti
Jamaica
Mexico
Panama
United States

south america
Argentina
Bonaire
Brazil
Chile
Colombia
Curaçao
Ecuador
Paraguay
Peru
Venezuela

Visit the Before I Die website

Interested in creating a wall? Learn more.