“Before I Die …” wall puts life’s dreams into public view

Maureen Mudi reads the entries at St. Paul’s “Before I Die… ” wall. (MPR Photo/Dan Olson)

By Maureen Mudi

Artist Candy Chang put up the first “Before I die….” wall on an abandoned building in her New Orleans neighborhood to help her refocus on life as she mourned a loved one’s death.

That simple idea – people publicly expressing their hopes and dreams — caught fire. Driven by social media, the chalkboard walls can be found now in more than 60 countries and many states, including this one I saw at one of the skyways at St. Paul downtown.

I found it very fascinating.

People from all walks of lives have shared their wishes on the wall. Some are funny, some confusing. Others are emotional. They are all viewed as personal thoughts and reflections. The only rule is that one is not supposed to write any vulgar language or abusive material.

The writings are rubbed off after every few weeks to make room for others.

Some of those I spoke to said it was a soft way to express ones dreams, and also frustrations, but with the hopes of attaining their goals in the near future.

“It’s about remembering what is important to you. It’s about getting to know the people around you in a new and enlightening ways,” says one of the posters pinned next to the wall at the St. Paul’s skyway.

In Kenya, there is a “Before I Die …” wall in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, but not much is known of it. The project is being implemented by Kuona Trust, an organization that hosts about 40 artist studios and runs various projects for the benefit of the arts.

In her story, Chang said “Before I Die…” is all about creating public spaces that help people to realize that they are not alone as they try to lead personally meaningful lives.

“Our public places are as profound as we want them to be,” she wrote on Twitter. “It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day and forget what really matters to you!”

Editor’s note: Maureen Mudi is a Kenyan journalist working this fall at MPR News.