January 11, 2013 | Back to: Columns

‘Before I Die’

Before she dies, Cristine Kelly wants to be the change she sees in the world.

And that’s why the Nevada City resident spent the waning hours of Friday painting and stenciling panels of wood to create a “Before I Die” wall. The interactive art installation will make its Nevada County debut today during the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

The simple black panels with white stencil wording is based on the “Before I Die” project that began in New Orleans in 2011 by Candy Chang.

Chang had just lost someone close to her and struggled to maintain perspective and find meaning through her grief when she decided to transform one side of a derelict old house in her New Orleans neighborhood, according to her website, www.candychang.com.

Chang and friends painted the wooden siding black, stenciled row upon row of “Before I die I want to ____________” across the width of the house and left chalk out in baskets attached to the wall.

“Anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in public space,” according to Chang’s website.

Within a day, the wall was full.

“Before I die I want to … see my daughter graduate, swim without holding nose, hold her one more time, write a novel, be someone’s cavalry, be completely myself.”

Two years since it began, it continues to be a powerful yet simple voice for people to anonymously share dreams, wit, aspirations or whatever is important to them. There are now more than 75 Before I Die walls in more than 10 languages and in more than 25 countries, including Kazakhstan, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Australia, Argentina and South Africa, according to the website.

After hearing about the project through TED, a popular series of inspirational talks offered free to the public online, Kelly said she was moved to bring the “Before I Die” project to Nevada County after the election in November. The election left people bitter and fractured, and Kelly wanted a way to get down to the things that are important, she said.

“Focus on the ties that bind us, rather than the things that divide us,” Kelly added.

She admits that may sound naive but said it’s part of her nature to find balance and bring people together.

“I would just like people to reflect on their lives, what’s important to them, and share in community. I think a lot of good can come from that,” Kelly said.

The film festival’s “A Climate of Change” theme and timing shortly after New Year’s seemed perfect for the launch of the “Before I Die” project to the community. Before the wall, or in Nevada County’s case, an 8-foot by 8-foot cube, was created, it already inspired community.

Around the New Year, Kelly shared her idea with Nevada City artist and architect Richard Baker, who immediately offered his assistance in building the panels. Then Caseywood generously supplied the wood materials.

“It’s pretty amazing how quick it came together. So it feels like it’s right. It’s the right thing to do,” Kelly said of the response.

Another unexpected result, it checks off a box in Kelly’s wish list. Before Kelly dies, she gets to be an artist. After Baker delivered the panels to her house Thursday, Kelly, the executive director of Music in the Mountains, found herself painting and prepping the cube. The installation is considered a part of the festival’s extensive art exhibit and officially lists her among the artists.

“I’m not an artist. I’m kind of like a faux artist, not a real artist,” said Kelly, adding that she always admired her artistic friends.

Kelly hopes that this weekend is only the beginning for the wall. She plans to circulate it to the many events and festivals around the community throughout 2013.

Since this is a community project and neither a for-profit venture nor a nonprofit organization, Kelly is in the process of creating a Kickstarter account to raise the small amount of money it will take to support the wall throughout the year.

Once full, the wall will get washed and ready for a new batch of colorful reflections.

Kelly intends to preserve the various incarnations of the Nevada County wall through video and photos and post updates to the “Before I Die” project site at www.beforeidie.cc/. What will last is the project’s impact on Kelly and hopefully the community.

“It’s been so inspiring on so many different levels for me. It’s really personal but also connects with my deeply ingrained sense of community,” she said.

The “Before I Die” wall will be on Commercial Street in Nevada City today and Sunday along with the Wild & Scenic stage and activities.

Features Editor Brett Bentley can be contacted at bbentley@theunion.com.

“Focus on the ties that bind us, rather than the things that divide us.”
— Cristine Kelly


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The Union Updated Mar 29, 2013 09:21PM Published Jan 14, 2013 02:07PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.