The project was conceived by artist Candy Chang, a 2011 TED fellow who created the first “Before I Die” public art installation last February in a city that has contemplated its own mortality: New Orleans. On the side of an abandoned building, Chang erected the chalkboard to help residents “remember what is important to them,” she wrote on her Web site. She let the responses — funny, poignant, morbid — roll in. “Before I Die” migrated to other cities, and with the help of other artists who borrowed her template, it has recorded the bucket-list dreams of people in more than 30 locations. The District’s arrived in Logan Circle early Sunday morning.
Chang analyzes the responses on each wall; most involve travel, she says. But in a well-traveled city like Washington, many of the hopes on the board here address politics and power. Before they die, Washingtonians would like to “Liberate Palestine,” “Be a general (Hooah!),” “Be chief of staff,” “See a transgender president,” “[Have] access to reproductive health care without stigma.” Chang also notes that the D.C. wall is more international than others she’s seen, with responses in at least seven languages.
The first two have nothing to do with politics, though. They were the same words, written at the same time, by two people who had risen at 5 a.m. on Sunday to bring chalk and contemplation to 14th and Q. Those words were “To fall in love.”
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Looking forward, and back
When Travis Moore’s grandmother died in September 2010, he struggled to find a proper tribute. After reading a New York Times article about “giving circles,” Moore, 32, decided to create his own. He selected a small group of friends and gave each of them $100 to make the world a little brighter any way they could think of.
One of them was resident Sophie Miller, 28, of Columbia Heights. She is not an artist, and she had little involvement in public art, but as she was walking around her neighborhood one morning, something caught her eye.
It was a flier — the kind with little strips to tear off, where information about babysitting or lawn care would typically be. But this one said, “Take what you need.” The tear-off strips were labeled “love” and “luck.”
“I thought, that’s what D.C. needs — more art for the sake of art that makes you stop and think and doesn’t have anything to do with politics,” Miller said. She learned about Chang online and decided to bring the “Before I Die” wall to the District adding her own money to Moore’s grant to buy the $140 bilingual tool kit.