Dreams of a
Public art can transform a town square or any community space, especially when the art tackles
high-priority community issues, says
Candy Chang, a New Orleans–based
artist who has worked in urban planning,
architecture, and graphic design. Much
of Chang’s work offers an interactive
experience or enables commentary in
public spaces. She has addressed such
civic matters as tenants’ rights and urban
development, including food deserts in
neglected neighborhoods. Her 2010 “I
Wish This Was” project gave New Orleans
residents the chance to use fill-in-the-blank stickers and place them on vacant
storefronts. Messages read: I wish this
was a home, a community garden, a safe
place for my kids to play, a bike shop, a
grocery. “Our public spaces have so much
potential to nourish our well-being, not just
as residents but as humans trying to make
sense of our lives,” Chang says.
She is best known for her “Before I
Die” walls, which have fostered intimate
dialogue within communities around
Candy Chang’s public art projects solicit community interaction and commentary on civic
issues. She has advice for real estate pros who want to influence how public spaces develop.
ARTIST CANDY CHANG
the world. The idea sprang as she grieved the loss of a close friend in 2011. After a long
period of depression, eventually she felt gratitude for the time they had together, and
Chang says she became more proactive about the things that mattered to her most.
The project developed when she received permission from the city to write “Before
I die I want to ____” in chalkboard paint on the side of an abandoned house in her
neighborhood. Chang left blank spaces and sticks of chalk for others to fill in their
own responses. Before long, the wall was filled with the hopes, dreams, and fears of
her neighbors. “I never expected it to go beyond this, but word spread and I received
hundreds of messages from people who wanted to create a wall with their community,”
says Chang, who published a book last year chronicling the evolution of the project. To
date, 500 “Before I Die” walls have been created in 70 countries.
Even when done privately, writing down your dreams is the first step to turning
abstract thoughts into something concrete, says Chang. It’s a practice real estate
pros can use to help them figure out next steps on the way to bettering their business,
their communities, and their personal lives. “I’m a big list maker. It helps me capture
moments of clarity and sets me back on course when I’m distracted,” Chang says.
Real estate professionals have a lot of influence in how a community evolves, Chang
says. If you’re interested in helping to create parks, outdoor gathering spaces, gardens,
or public art projects that are meaningful and cared for by the community, Chang says,
it’s important to be transparent in communicating ideas and sensitive to residents’
hopes and concerns. You can also help raise neighborhood awareness of the project and
invite residents to be part of the development process, she says.
Saturday, Nov. 8, at 11 a.m.
Chang will discuss her artistic career and the
importance of revitalizing public space.