As part of Studio B Fine Art Gallery’s “Legacy: Remembrance Matters” art exhibit and book release, an interactive mural titled “Before I Die” is planned as a way to invite the community to participate in the project by sharing their thoughts, hopes, and dreams publicly.
The wall will be located in the walkway between Bridget’s Place and The Peppermint Stick Candy Store, constructed by Martignetti Construction Company, and painted with chalkboard paint, courtesy of painter Andrew Garcia. Final preparations will be made by members of Studio B’s Advisory Council and friends, allowing folks to add their thoughts during the studio’s exhibit which opens June 23, 2023, and runs through August 27, 2023.
A ribbon cutting for the installation is planned for June 21, 2023, at 5:30 p.m. Members of the community are invited to the event to add their responses to the wall at that time.
“Amy Muzopappa, a member of Studio B’s Advisory Council, became acquainted with the ‘Before I Die’ project when we were considering ways to involve the community during our annual art exhibit and book release,” explains Jane Stahl, Studio B’s Director of Community Relations. “She and Judy Wetzel had seen a ‘Before I Die, I Want to…’ mural wall during their trip to Alaska and were inspired by the concept and, while there, added their own wishes.
“The mission statement offers a profound suggestion that, ‘The Before I Die’ project reimagines how the wall of our cities can help us grapple with mortality and meaning as a community today.”
In learning that the project has become a global movement over 10 years with over 5,000 walls created in over 76 countries and over 36 languages, we were again eager for Boyertown to join the global community in participating in this unique interactive community project,” Stahl continues.
Studio B Art Gallery has participated in other international projects throughout its history. In 2022, as part of the studio’s “Transforming Moments” exhibit and book release, seven community members participated in sharing details from what Stahl calls their “complicated lives” in an event modeled after the global project titled Human Library, an initiative that began in Denmark and now exists in 50 countries.
And in 2013 the studio featured an international traveling exhibition “Circus Terminal: USA” bringing together 60+ artists from around the globe. In 2017 the studio brought artists and art from London and New Zealand in an exhibit and community workshop in collaboration with “Uncooked Culture: titled “Asia Pacific.” “We are the World!” quipped Stahl.
Boyertown’s Borough Council approved the installation. Muzopappa created a Facebook group page to allow the community insight about its members’ hopes and plans as posts are added. And while Boyertown’s Mayor Lori Carnes would like to retain the project—and the community’s responses—permanently, organizers suggest taking photographs of responses and posting them on the mural wall’s group page.
Chang, Lizabeth (Candy) Chang, born in Hong Kong, won Miss Chinese Toronto in 2009 and Miss Chinese International Pageant 2010 as second runner-up, is determined to help grapple with mortality and meaning as a community. She created the first “Before I Die” wall in New Orleans after the death of a woman who was like a mother to her who had so many things she planned to do.
Chang explains, “Seeing some private corner of your psyche reflected in someone else’s handwriting on a public wall can be incredibly reassuring on an individual level, and it’s a step towards seeing ourselves in one another.”
“And while we cringed at the mural’s title,” Stahl confesses, “artist Candy Chang, the organizer of the project, insists that communities keep the word ‘die’ in the title, explaining that the ‘Before I Die’ wall ‘should offer passersby a much-needed break from the messages in our public spaces which are trying to sell us something….free of logos, slogans, website addresses, hashtags…there’s already too much of this in the world. Each wall is created by passionate people who want to make a space in their community to restore perspective and reflect with one another. Each wall is a tribute to living an examined life. And each wall gives communities an inclusive space for personal expression, consolation, understanding and kinship.’”
Chang continues, “There’s a lot of superstition and anxiety around the language of mortality, and we’ve seen many walls which have replaced ‘before I die’ with something more oblique and gentle, such as ‘while I’m still alive.’
“A key part of our mission is to remove the stigma of discussing death and to help inject conversations about mortality into a visual landscape that is preoccupied with instant gratification, youth, and distractions. When we become comfortable talking honestly and directly about death, we can help change the culture around it from one that is full of death denial to one where we confront mortality in a way that compassionately prepares us as individuals and as a community.”
Chang’s extended grief and depression resulted in an awareness of how much time and energy is wasted on activities and concerns that don’t matter and that prevent participation in what really matters. Her “canvas” was an abandoned house that she painted with chalkboard paint and stenciled with the prompt “Before I die, I want to ______” so that anyone could add their personal reflections on life and death.
She recalls,“By the next day, the wall was entirely filled and it kept growing. Before I die, I want to …sing for millions, abandon all insecurities, get my wife back, eat all the carbs I want, hold her one more time, be completely myself.”
She found the whole of humanity expressed: “longing, fear, insecurity, gratitude, humor, pain, and grace.” She realized that she was not alone trying to figure out what mattered in life, and she enjoyed sharing “deep thoughts,” and the assurance that the project created through the empathy that was developed.
She continues, “It has been one of the greatest experiences of my life to see this little experiment grow into a global project. I am continuously inspired by everyone’s walls, which have revealed just how much we are the same. From China to Iran, from Brazil to South Africa, the same themes emerge: We want to love and be loved. We want to do meaningful work. We want to travel the world. We want to see our loved ones thrive. We want to be at peace with ourselves. You can read many stories behind these walls in the Before I Die book, published in 2013.
“Since the first Before I Die wall, I have become passionate about creating new rituals in public life. As the world has felt more distracting, more tribal, and more alienating, I often find myself feeding my worst habits and yearning for rituals to help restore perspective. This has led me to think about the future of ritual in public life—new ways we might find emotional communion with one another, to remember that we are all walking wounded and that our shared struggles and desires far outweigh our differences. If we continue to question what our public spaces can be, our built environment can offer profound moments of communion and kinship.”
Studio B’s “Legacy: Remembrance Matters” art exhibit; anthology of poetry, prose, and art; and art-related activities including the mural wall are sponsored by a grant award from the Boyertown Area Charitable Giving Program administered by Berks County Community Foundation.