Last weekend, local mural collective See Savannah Art Walls (SeeS.A.W.) installed “Before I Die,” a public art project conceived by Candy Chang. At two loca
tions, 109 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and 1100 E. 31st St., the project is a collaboration with New Orleans-based design firm, Civic Center, and is part of this week’s Savannah Urban Arts Festival (SUAF).
Chang’s project originated along a decrepit warehouse in her hometown of New Orleans. Much of the neighborhood was still in shambles after Hurricane Katrina. Chang wanted to create a collective dialogue about the dreams of a community.
Her idea was simple: paint the side of a building black, stencil “Before I die I want to” dozens of times across it, then leave cups of chalk for any passersby to complete the sentences.
The response helped ease the pain of a city still reeling from destruction, the wishes ranging from the overwhelming (“end racism”) to the intimate (“spend my life with John”).
Since its first installation, subsequent “Before I Die” walls have popped up in San Diego, Brooklyn, Amsterdam, Kazakhstan and London with an upcoming installation in South Africa.
And for those interested in seeing the project in their city, Chang’s website now offers a toolkit to create your own “Before I Die” wall. The artist encourages variations on her own design, asking only that she receives credit as a source and for results to be photographed.
Matt Hebermehl and James Zdaniewski, co-founders of SeeS.A.W., hope that the project will “amplify the dialogue among Savannah residents about how we feel about ourselves, each other, where we live, how we live and how we move forward together.”
Though Chang’s design has received international attention and acclaim, Savannah is the first of its kind to create multiple sites within a single city.
“Fellow artist, Jerome Meadows, definitely deserves credit for suggesting a dual-site installation,” Hebermehl said. “We felt having two sites would offer an honest cross-section of Savannah’s visitors and residents. [Zdaniewski and I] have personal and professional relationships with both building owners. We approached them and they said yes right away, which is a testament to the power of ‘Before I Die.’”
In addition to provoking a dialogue among the people of Savannah, Hebermehl and Zdaniewski also view “Before I Die” as a chance to involve Savannah in a global conversation.
“Beyond the positive outcome of reactivating two neglected buildings, we saw an opportunity to locally install a project with international acclaim,” said the pair via email. “It is a true sign that Savannah continues to grow in relevance as a destination and incubator for contemporary culture.”
Both locations of “Before I Die” are open to the public anytime through May 7.Contact Steve Drum.
Editor’s note: This article was edited to correct an error reflecting the collaboration with the New Orleans-based design firm, Civic Center, not the Civic Center here.