Before I die … Guest Blog by Karl Larsen

photo courtesy of
photo courtesy of

In February of 2011, visual artist and motivational speaker Candy Chang struggled to cope with the loss of a loved one. During this difficult time, she found herself lost, searching for a way to express herself and to make sense of death. Eventually she turned to her friends and community for inspiration. Little did she know that what she was about to create would not only serve as a personal escape, but would be a source of inspiration and public expression for the entire world for years to come.


Chang’s canvas? An old abandoned building in the Upper 9th Ward, New Orlean’s largest and most distinctive region devastated by the floods of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The exterior wall chosen spanned a length of approximately 40 feet, and would become the site of the very first “Before I Die…” wall. With the help of friends, the entire wall was painted end to end with chalkboard paint. Then, in the top left corner, in big white stenciled letters, the words “Before I Die…” set the tone for this soon-to-be interactive public forum. To allow the curious and the brave to interact, “I want to _______________.” was repeatedly stenciled across the wall, inviting the passing public to complete the phrase; soap trays were mounted to hold chalk.


"Before I die" stencil photo courtesy of
“Before I die” stencil photo courtesy of

Chang didn’t know what the coming days would hold for this project that was so close to her heart. What she saw the next day left her astounded. Dozens of colorful reactions decorated the once-dilapidated wooden wall, turning it into the purest form of public art… transforming an eyesore into an attraction.


Within days, the wall was completely filled. In the months following its public début, the wall collected hundreds among hundreds of wishes, dreams and personal aspirations — some funny; others, uplifting and motivational. The newly revitalized corner of Burgundy and Marigny streets became a hub for the weary wanting to love again and the ambitious wanting to keep their undying passions alive in a world filled with unrest and uncertainty.


I want to learn another language.

I want to live my best life.

I want to abandon all insecurities.

I want to teach yoga.

I want to see equality.

I want to be published.


“Before I Die… I want to _______________.”


It was a phrase I knew all too well and what initially attracted me to Candy Chang’s work. The topic of personal desires is a tricky one and the inspiration behind my first book, published in October of 2011. “W a n t.,” as it is titled, is a glance back at my life as I struggled to come to terms with an identity crisis, the decisions I had made as a young adult and the consequences that followed. Lost, and desperate for inspiration, I turned inward to find that I had the answers hidden deep within my long-forgotten desires, leading me to become the last thing I’d ever believed I could become: an author. It was then that I began to harness the energy of my positive desires and turn them into positive actions. The “Before I Die” wall is the perfect visual representation of the messages conveyed in my book. Simple, compelling, captivating.

photo courtesy of Karl Larsen
photo courtesy of Karl Larsen


Today, less than three years after its début, more than 250 walls have been installed around the world, embraced in over 50 countries and translated into more than 20 languages. Though the original wall “died” in October 2011, it’s evident that the “Before I Die” legacy is still being written. Paris, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Montréal… the list goes on. Name a major city; more than likely, a wall has been hosted there. Even Charleston had one of their own from October to December 2011. The message is universal, making Candy Chang’s social experiment a wild success for years to come.


In March this year, after stumbling upon this amazing project and its undeniable ability to capture the hearts of many, I made it my mission to bring it here to the Capital City. With the help of OneColumbia, Mark Plessinger of First Thursdays on Main and many others, “Before I Die” is officially coming to downtown Columbia. The location? The 1600 block of Main Street in front of the future Agapé Senior Headquarters. Set to be unveiled at a 2 p.m. press conference held by Mayor Steve Benjamin, Columbia will have its chance to build the “Before I Die” legacy for the duration of September and, perhaps, longer. As part of an installation for September 5th’s First Thursday on Main, it is expected to attract a considerable crowd, possibly making it the largest and most-anticipated First Thursday ever.


The timing couldn’t be any better. There will be three “Before I Die” walls in Columbia to choose from on September 5. Yes, three. Beginning August 22nd, another installation will open to the public from 5:30–7:00 p.m. in the Goodall Gallery at Columbia College as part of pARTicipate: Projects from the Community Arts Program’s Urban Studio. Jasper Magazine is also hosting a preview and introduction to Main Street’s wall during their monthly Salon Series, 7:00 p.m. on August 27, located in the historic Arcade building. As the highlighted artist for the Salon, I’ll be there to talk about my book and the “Before I Die” project. Jasper’s “Before I Die” wall will also be accessible to the public on September 5th. Whichever location you choose, be sure to reserve your spot and be a part of the worldwide sensation that is the “Before I Die” wall.


— Karl L. Larsen







About Jasper

What Jasper Said is the blogging arm of Jasper – The Word on Columbia Arts, a new written-word oriented arts magazine that serves artists and arts lovers in the Columbia, SC area and its environs in four ways: Via Print Media – Jasper is a bi-monthly magazine, releasing in print six times per year in September, November, January, March, May & July, on the 15th of each month. Jasper covers the latest in theatre and dance, visual arts, literary arts, music, and film as well as arts events and happenings; Via Website – Jasper is an interactive website complete with a visual arts gallery, messages from Jasper, an arts events calendar that is updated several times daily, bite-sized stories on arts events, guest editorials, local music, dance & theatre videos, community surveys, and more; Via Blog – What Jasper Said -- you're reading this now -- is a daily blog featuring a rotating schedule of bloggers from the Jasper staff as well as guest bloggers from throughout the arts community; Via Twitter – Jasper Advises is a method of updating the arts community on arts events, as they happen, with more than a half dozen active tweeters who live, work, and play inside the arts community everyday ~ Jasper Advises keeps the arts community abreast of what not to miss, what is happening when it is happening, and where to be to experience it first hand.
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