Chalk display invites public to share its bucket list dreams

by Michelle Saxton
Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cage dive with great white sharks. 

Kiss actor Zac Efron. 

Save a life.

These are just some of the dreams people want to fulfill — people who recently saw a heptagon-shaped display on the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s campus titled, “Before I die…” and filled in the blanks with chalk.

The interactive art project is a partnership between Lower Cape Fear Hospice and LifeCareCenter and New Orleans artist and urban planner Candy Chang. After losing someone she loved, Chang created the project in 2011 by painting the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood with chalkboard paint and inviting the public to finish the message, “Before I die I want to ____.”

Her idea has since spread to other communities, with Hospice starting its display in New Hanover County this past October at Cape Fear Community College. The display was moved to UNCW in early November and will stay through early December.

“I see it as a motivational and inspirational, artful way to engage the community, to really think,” said Kimberly Paul, Hospice’s vice president of communications and outreach, during a Monday, Dec. 3, telephone interview. “What if it is my last day on Earth? … ‘Before I die I want to___’ gives us a short glimpse of, ‘Hey, if we really put our minds to something we can really accomplish it.’”

A Saturday, Dec. 1, visit to the display near the Raiford G. Trask Coliseum revealed a variety of responses — both serious and silly.

Several were inspired by dreams of finding love, traveling, skydiving and making the world a better place. Others wanted to wear Hawaiian shirts to work, jump into a lake fully clothed, play on the PGA tour, see giant sequoias, play with manatees, run a Krispy Kreme race and touch Tom Selleck’s mustache. 

“Everybody has a bucket list,” Paul said. “Everybody’s comments are different. Everybody is relating on this one board.”

The board display is located in a high-traffic area where a mix of students and UNCW sports fans pass by, said Mike Vaccaro, UNCW’s assistant director of sports marketing and the Seahawks’ radio voice.

“Maybe in their house it kind of sparks a little conversation,” Vaccaro said during a Monday, Dec. 3, phone interview. “Dying is something we’re all going to do. Knowing that and discussing that is maybe a good thing.”

In mid-December the board will be cleaned up, repainted and sent to Pender County, Paul said. Hospice hopes for the display to visit different locations in its service area through next September, with future sites to be determined in Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties, she said.

The display included boxes full of chalk, as well as small handouts with room to write more “Before I die” messages. One was filled out and left at the display; it said, “not die.”

“It’s so reflective of our human struggle and our own mortality,” Paul said.

The campaign ties into the nonprofit’s Begin The Conversation advanced care planning program.

“It’s really being an advocate for those individuals who want to die their own way,” Paul said.

Lower Cape Fear Hospice serves about 500 patients daily, Paul said, including through health care, palliative care, education, grief support for families and a therapeutic Sunshine Camp for children.

“Before I die” also is about helping educate and engage younger generations, she said. 

“Maybe one day the generation can get it right, that we will die well,” Paul said. “When people plan with anything, it’s better. Your plans might change along the way but you do it well.”

“With more ways to share our hopes, fears and stories in public space, the people around us can not only help us make better places, they can help us lead better lives,” Chang stated on her website,

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