Viral ‘Before I Die’ Art Project Helps Bring Healing to Ferguson

Candy Chang's hopeful artwork has been seen in trouble spots around the world.

Before I Die in Ferguson Photo: Courtesy @kharyp Twitter

Today in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown will be laid to rest. The killing of the African-American teenager has sparked two weeks of unrest, and his parents have called for a day of peace to honor the solemn occasion. Meanwhile, an interactive community artwork called Before I Die is attracting attention as an outlet for Ferguson residents hoping to see positive change come from the tragic event.

The work takes the form of chalkboard posters plastered over the graffiti that formerly covered a shuttered steakhouse, a protest site, bearing the prompt “Before I die I want to.” Responses to the artwork’s prompt are written in colored chalk. In Ferguson, overwhelmingly, those responses have been messages of hope, with participants expressing desires to “see systematic reform,” “stop the violence,” “see the young get old before they die,” and “see the demilitarization of police forces,” according to those interviewed by KSHB.

Before I Die is the brainchild of artist Candy Chang, who created the first chalkboard piece in her home of New Orleans in 2011, and has since seen her work adopted on more than 525 walls in over 70 countries, including Iraq, Kazakhstan, and South Africa. Chang’s book by the same name documents the project’s spread, and provides instruction for creating a Before I Die wall of your own.

In Ferguson, the project was launched by a group of local teachers. Locals are hopeful that the wall, located at the heart of the protests, can help provide healing after the tragedy, as it has in communities across the globe. “When all this is gone, they can take the posters down, it doesn’t matter,” Sharon Otis told local NBC affiliate KSDK, “because, it’s going to be in their heart.”

Meanwhile, the area art community continues to respond. St. Louis’s Alliance of Black Art Galleries has issued an open call for work inspired by the shooting and the surrounding issues, and plans to include some 250 pieces in a multi-venue show tentatively scheduled for October. The exhibition title, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Artists Respond,” takes its name from what has since become a rallying cry for protestors of the shooting.

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