Before I Die, I Want to Create Places that Matter

Pittsburgh is a city of places. Every cobbled alley has witnessed life, each precariously perched house somehow forming a part of our collective memory. It is tempting to understand the built environment as the realization of urban plans and architectural schematics. And in many ways, stones and concrete shape how we interact with space, where we relax, move, and wonder. But the collection of structures that fill our day-to-day lives forms the foundation of our identity, and every place we inhabit has the power to capture the memories of our life.

If this urban meditation seems a bit obscure, take a moment to imagine your life as points on a map: where you walk your dog, where you heard about your first job, where you first met your closest friend.  Each of our private cities is filled with thoughts and memories–in the same way that some songs remind you of certain people. Now imagine walking down the block and strolling into your neighbor’s personal city, with every word and memory literally painted on the passing wall. That is the genius of artist Candy Chang, our guest at the Inspire Speakers Series on May 10th.

Ms. Chang comes from the worlds of city planning and architecture, but relies more on spray paint and stickers to build places. Her most famous piece, Before I Die, started with an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood. In coping with her own grief, Ms. Chang created an enormous chalkboard for fellow neighbors to share their life plans as they passed. The worn down boards became a concrete space to think aloud, while highlighting the community’s common humanity.

“Public art has the power to confront you on your daily path and disrupt your routine,” says Ms. Chang. “It’s self-examination in transit…and free for everyone.”

City life can be isolating, and it’s easy to go an entire day without talking to anyone. If Candy Chang has her way, our places will say much more than strangers ever will or could. More than streets, buildings, and even parks, that is the power of art.

Please join Candy Chang and local artists John Pena and Edith Abeyta at the Inspire Speakers Series on May 10, 2018. For more details and registration information, visit  

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