Sunday, November 18, 2012

Strengthening community through interactive street art

by Kaid Benfield 

 Before I Die house before (via Google Earth)   Before I Die house before 2 (courtesy of Candy Chang)
  Before I Die house transformed into community art (courtesy of Candy Chang)
Okay, this is merely one of the most creative community projects ever.  In post-Katrina New Orleans, a badly degraded house about a mile or so east of the Tremé district looked like the photos you see at the top, above.  The image on the right was taken later than the one on the left.  As you can see, it has changed.
  Before I Die house writing on the wall (courtesy of Candy Chang)
Artist Candy Chang had an idea to turn the property into a sort of collective performance-art piece in which all are invited to participate, simply by declaring what is important to them.  Chang has provided chalk, a large-scale blackboard, and the necessary permits.
  Before I Die I Want To (courtesy of Candy Chang)
The house has been purchased and will be renovated but, until then, it serves as a living testament to community, inclusion, creativity and purpose.
  location of Before I Die house (via Google Earth)
Chang, who describes herself on her web site as “a public installation artist, designer, urban planner, and co-founder of Civic Center who likes to make cities more comfortable for people,” lives in the neighborhood.  She explains:
“With support from old and new friends, I turned the side of an abandoned house in my neighborhood into a giant chalkboard to invite my neighbors to share what is important to them. Before I Die transforms neglected spaces into constructive ones where we can learn the hopes and aspirations of the people around us. This process (including obtaining official approval from many entities) has been a great lesson – more on that later. If you’re in New Orleans, stop by the corner of Marigny and Burgundy (900 Marigny Street) to add your thoughts to the wall and discover what matters most to your neighbors. I believe the design of our public spaces can better reflect what’s important to us as residents and as human beings. The responses and stories from passersby while we were installing it have already hit me hard in the heart.”  
  Before I Die I Want To (courtesy of Candy Chang)
The project commenced in February of this year, and has received a tremendous response, the spaces for writing sometimes filling up in as little as one day.  When the board fills, it is washed so people can start over.
  Before I Die house chalk (courtesy of Candy Chang)
Chang is working on a kit that will enable the project to be replicated in other communities, starting with another neighborhood in New Orleans.
  Before I Die house wall filled (courtesy of Candy Chang)
There are many more excellent and fascinating photos on Chang’s web site, which I urge you to visit.  The site describes the project as “self-initiated with permission from the property owner, residents of the block, the neighborhood association’s blight committee, the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the Arts Council, and the City Planning Commission.”  Wow.
I’m planning on stopping by and perhaps chalking up a few words of my own.  Big-time props to the artist for a great concept, very well executed.
New Orleans resilience series
Part 1:  What does post-Katrina New Orleans say about cities? About America?
Part 2:  Strengthening community through interactive street art
Part 3:  New Orleanians, rebuilding with sustainability
Many thanks to Joel Mills for pointing me to Candy Chang's fascinating work.  All images are courtesy of Candy Chang, except for the one at top left and the satellite image, both from Google Earth.
Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.