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Death, Life and Art at Santa Monica Beach House
Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
Roque & Mark Real Estate
2802 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90404
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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

May 9, 2016 -- When artist Candy Chang stenciled the words, “Before I Die I want to,” followed by a space for people to fill in the blank, little did she expect her “experiment” stuck to the wall of a vacant building in her New Orleans neighborhood would strike such a chord across the globe.

Photo Credit: City of Santa Monica

Candy Chang. Photo Credit: City of Santa Monica
What inspired Chang, a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Senior Fellowship recipient whose TED Talk on YouTube has more than 4 million views, to pose the open question was the deep impression that death had recently made on her own life.

“I made the 'Before I Die' project out of my grief and depression after I lost someone I loved," Chang said of the 2011 project. "It was an experiment to try and restore perspective and find some consolation with my neighbors.”

On Tuesday, Chang will share her take on art, the creative process and life and death during an artist talk at the Annenberg Community Beach House, 415 Pacific Coast Highway, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Chang never planned for the wall project to go beyond New Orleans, she said, but after she posted a few photos of her project online, it quickly spread.

“My inbox filled up with messages from people around the world who wanted to make a wall with their community, so I made a website with resources and step-by-step guides," she told the Lookout.

"Thanks to passionate people who have spearheaded their own walls, there are now over 2,000 'Before I Die' walls in over 70 countries.”

Some of her favorite odd responses to “Before I die I want to...” include “ a stripper and a nun at the same time,” “...straddle the International Date Line” and “ a salad with an alien.”

“I’m most touched by the emotional ones like 'bring peace of mind to my mom,' 'overcome depression,' 'tell her how much she meant to me,'” said Chang.

The walls express "the longing, pain, joy, insecurity, gratitude, fear, and wonder you find in every community. They reflect the gamut of humanity, from the profane to the profound.”

Combining her master's degree in urban planning from Columbia University with her artistic sensibilities, Chang seeks to “activate” public spaces through her thought-provoking and often playful installations.

Chang's aim is to create “healthful shared spaces that cultivate introspection, intimacy and kinship.”

“More people live in cities than ever before, but many studies say people feel more isolated than ever,” said Chang, who has created installations in communities in Nairobi, New York, South Africa and Vancouver.

“Our personal anxieties extend into our public life and many of the conflicts in our communities come from a lack of trust and understanding. Through opportunities for communal introspection in public, we can gain a lot of value in both self-realization and communal kinship.”

It's a perspective that relates well to Santa Monica's $1 million Wellbeing Project, said Naomi Okuyama, the City's cultural affairs supervisor, whose department helped coordinate Chang's visit.

The City's two-year, grant-funded effort to gauge the emotional wellness of its 93,640 residents, the results of which were released last year, found that while a majority of people felt good about living in Santa Monica, one out of five young persons reported feeling lonely almost every day.

Cities tend to enhance feelings of isolation, said Chang, who as part of her presentation on Tuesday will demonstrate techniques she uses that have helped her in her life, “including the 'I Ching,' dream analysis, 'Morning Pages,' and mental exercises related to Carl Jung’s work.”

“There are a lot of barriers to connecting with the people around us and, while those barriers remain, it’s easy to forget the humanity in the people around us and become impersonal and even adversarial,” she said.

Although her “Before I Die” project has been a global phenomenon, Chang says she isn't morbidly obsessed with the subject.

But she also believes that contemplating death, “as Stoics and other philosophers have encouraged for centuries, is a powerful tool to help you restore perspective and remember the things that make your life meaningful to you.”

“I think our obsession and fear of death is as old as time," Chang said. "No other living things, as far as we know, are able to imagine and dread death like humans do. It’s a genuine existential anxiety."

The free discussion at the Annenberg Beach House will be followed by a reception with the artist. For more information, visit

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