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Arts & Culture

Before You Die What Do You Want To Do?

A new, non-traditional art exhibit has gone up downtown. The city's Department of Culture and Creative Development (DCCD) has placed a great big chalkboard on the side of a building at a busy downtown street corner. In blocky letters it says "Before I die I want to..."  Chalk is readily available, and people have been filling in their hopes for themselves.

The City of San Antonio’s Felix Padron talks about artist Candy Chang’s inspiration for her installation, a similar piece she's installed in more than 75 countries around the world. 

"She experienced the death of a very close friend of hers."

That friend's death got her to wondering about all of people's unrealized dreams, resulting in her first "Before I Die" installation in New Orleans. I asked Padron what he wants to be sure and do before he dies. He wants to learn to play the piano. 

I walked down to the chalkboard at Houston and Navarro Streets and spoke with people who wandered up and stayed to read the board. JaneyCardona was there with her friend Brandon Hernandez. The chalkboard really affected her, leaving her feeling philosophical.

"I think it’s beautiful. It’s just a piece of their mind you know, that they’re expressing it on the wall right here."

Homeless, quiet and serious Angus Lewis spent a lot of time reading other people's dreams. It seemed he hadn’t even thought about his ‘til I asked him. After thinking he turned to me and said "I want to go un-homeless. I want to make my life again." 

Debi Pfitzenmaier was charmed by the whole idea of people writing down their hopes.

"It’s a lovely art installation. I think it’s very cool."

I asked her what she wanted to do before she died, and she got very thoughtful.

"I’d like to dance at my children’s wedding. I’d like to hold my grandchild in my arms." 

After a moment or two, she lightened up and added this.

"I think I’d like to return to Paris someday." 

She had vacationed there long ago when she was 15. I pointed out to her "Nothing's holding you back!” That gave her some pause.

"That’s an interesting thing. Seems like we’re so tied down."  But then she seemed to come to a conclusion about the installation. "Maybe this thing was designed to make us let go of those ties and move forward in the things we would like to do."

I asked Ms. Pfitzenmaier if a blackboard stuck on a wall was really art. Her face lit up and she smiled.

"I think art is anything that makes you think. And so in that case, it’s very much a piece of art!"

The chalk board was full to overflowing of people's thoughts, every square inch of the board was written on. As I was about to leave, a city worker appeared with water and rags, and began erasing it. Tomorrow’s a new day, with new dreams to pursue.