#18 cities
Raphael Thelen

A City Defiant

Hurricane Katrina wiped out entire New Orleans’ neighbourhoods killing hundreds. Artist Candy Chang gives a positive spin to this experience in her public art project “Before I die I want to…”.

You know you have touched a nerve when your public art project is copied 1,000 times in over 70 countries. But getting there was an emotional process for both artist Candy Chang and her hometown of New Orleans.

New Orleans after hurricane Katrina was marked by abandoned buildings, destroyed livelihoods, and lives lost. “Death is something that we're often discouraged to talk about, or even think about, but I've realised that preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do,“ 26-year-old Candy Chang says. She was intimately confronted by death after someone she was close to passed away.

Candy Chang has worked as an artist, designer, and urban planner.

Contemplating her pain, she learned what was meaningful to her about life. Wanting to share this realisation with her fellow New Orleans natives, she came up with a public art project for her neighbourhood that required nothing more than an abandoned house, some blackboard paint, chalk and one simple, open-ended statement: “Before I die I want to…”.

The response was overwhelming. Shaken by Katrina, Chang's project seemed to offer the residents of New Orleans a way to process their trauma. And what could make a public art project more meaningful?

No one is better suited to talk about the project than its creator, New Orleans resident Candy Chang. She addressed her work and its impact at a TED talk:

Candy Chang has worked as an artist, designer, and urban planner. She co-founded the Civic Center, a studio for urban design that combines architecture, graphic design, and urban planning to improve every day public life and communication in cities. She has earned degrees in architecture, graphic design, and urban planning from Columbia University and the University of Michigan, and has worked with community organisations on urban design projects in New York, Nairobi, Vancouver, New Orleans, and Johannesburg.

Her stay in Johannesburg was especially important in the run-up to the “Before I die I want to…” project. She worked in a township there, developing more efficient ways for neighbourhoods and communities to share information. Prior to Chang's arrival, a girl had been lost in the city for three days before returning home safely. Chang and her team came up with a simple idea for sharing important information about emergencies, events and jobs: They put up blackboards in high-traffic areas for residents to use.

Copyright: Candy Chang

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