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Art Asks What To Do 'Before I Die'


One week ago today, an enormous chalkboard popped up on a busy street here in Washington, D.C. And at the very top corner painted in huge letters, just three words: Before I Die. The board was like a magnet to passersby to write their greatest wishes, their wildest dreams, the things they want to accomplish before they die. Think of it as a crowd-sourced bucket list.

DAN MEREDITH: Write the great American novel.

SOPHIE MILLER: Run a marathon.

MEREDITH: Teach my son to be a good person.

MILLER: Achieve owner...

RAZ: This community art project started when two locals got $100 from a friend. The only string: give the money back to the community in a positive way.

MILLER: I'm Sophie Miller.

MEREDITH: I'm Dan Meredith.

MILLER: We are standing here looking at this 8-by-24 foot chalkboard, the Before I Die wall that I just put up on Sunday.

MEREDITH: She got the plywood, started painting, and together, we stenciled it out.

MILLER: It say before I die in English. And then in Spanish, it says: antes de moir quiero, which means, before I die, I want to.

MEREDITH: And at 4:30 in the morning last Sunday, because we thought it would be all secretive and no one would see us do it, we tacked this thing up onto a construction site that we're standing here on the corner with more plywood, assuming that it wouldn't do any harm and it would be here for a while.

MILLER: And then there's chalk here. And then there's a space to write what, you know, whatever it is that feels right for you.

MEREDITH: Dance and laugh a lot. Bring someone to Jesus.

MILLER: Talk to the man who saved my life.

MEREDITH: I didn't expect to see a full wall for at least, you know, a week. I got a Facebook message from a friend who lives in this neighborhood the next day at like 11:00. We were still sleeping. And she said: You should check out this wall. It's already half full at mid-morning.

MILLER: We came back at about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, and it was just mind-boggling how full it was. And then we spent basically the rest of the day sitting across watching people come by.

MEREDITH: People are overwriting, and it's incredible how many people are getting involved with it.

MILLER: And it's just amazing. You know, it says things like fall in love again, see a woman president, build my own library, have my father accept my sexuality and be proud of me. You know, obviously, there's also some very lighthearted things, but it also people's, you know, real deep concerns and cares and the things that are important to them.

MEREDITH: Go to China.

MILLER: I will learn how to make my mother's cheesecake.

MEREDITH: Drive a Ferrari (unintelligible).

MILLER: To be fluent in French and Arabic.

MEREDITH: Be in love. Be made fun of on "Saturday Night Live."

MILLER: I've seen a couple that I thought to myself I would maybe erase. I mean, that's the nice thing. It's also this funny process of kind of a censorship by the community of the community.

MEREDITH: And someone had written over there: I will kill everyone. And there were other people that had wrote somewhat sexual things, but nothing really bad. That one was a pretty negative, threatening thing.

MILLER: And then somebody covered it up. Somebody painted it over. I find it really interesting that somebody in the community decided this is not what we're talking about. This is not what we need. This is not what this is for.

MEREDITH: Someone wrote on the wall: it's OK to erase things. It's a blackboard. By nature, it's meant to be erased. It's not supposed to be permanent.

MILLER: I think people want a space to reflect. I think people are kind of glad to have a moment to sit and think what are the things that are really important to them in life before they die, you know, maybe particularly in a city like D.C., where there's a lot of focus on one's career, which obviously is a very important thing. But you don't always get to think about your kind of bigger picture.

MEREDITH: Meet my half-sibling. Parachute-surf around the globe.

MILLER: Be successful.

MEREDITH: Visit the number of countries that equal my age. Kiss Philippa.

MILLER: Run for office.

MEREDITH: Travel the seven seas.

RAZ: The voices of Sophie Miller and Dan Meredith, the two community artists who brought the Before I Die chalkboard to Washington, D.C. It's based on a project started by artist Candy Chang in New Orleans. You can learn more about it at her website, candychang.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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