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New public art piece encourages participation as well as contemplation

Posted: July 29, 2013 - 10:32pm  |  Updated: July 30, 2013 - 12:07am
Daniel Gildmann, property manager for the Goldstein Improvement Co., talks about installing a public interaction chalkboard on Main Street between Front and 2nd Streets on Monday based on a based on a project by Candy Chang in New Orleans.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Daniel Gildmann, property manager for the Goldstein Improvement Co., talks about installing a public interaction chalkboard on Main Street between Front and 2nd Streets on Monday based on a based on a project by Candy Chang in New Orleans.

Juneau’s newest public art piece erases the line between artist and viewer by making them one and the same. Installed Monday afternoon on Main Street downtown between Front and Second Streets, the giant chalkboard mural is a perpetual work in progress, fed by spontaneous — and temporary — public response. Visitors are encouraged to pick up a piece of chalk and fill in the end of the sentence that begins “Before I die I want to...”

Five minutes after the mural was installed Monday, there were six responses, ranging from “kiss Molly!” to “sky dive in the Swiss alps.” Other visitors stood back and watched, curious to see what was coming next.

By the end of the day, every available space was filled with writing, even areas not designated for words, with entries that varied from silly (“make it rain”) to serious (“forgive my father”).

“It makes you want to think,” remarked one visitor.

“It’s a great idea, we’ll come back later to read it,” said another.

The project was organized by Daniel Glidmann, property manger of Goldstein Improvement Co., who owns the lot where the art piece is installed. Glidmann got the idea from a TED talk he saw a few months ago led by Candy Chang, who created the original “Before I Die” art piece in New Orleans.

“I saw the TED talk and I said, ‘I’ve got to do it,’” Glidmann said. “There’s a lot of things you see and you think that, but this one was reachable."

According to her blog, Chang created the original piece after the death of a close friend as a way to reach out, gain perspective and stimulate public reflection and connection.

“At their greatest, our public spaces can nourish our well-being and help us see that we’re not alone as we try to make sense of our lives,” Chang wrote.

After receiving an overwhelmingly positive response, she began offering stencil kits and information on her website at beforeidie.cc so that people could create similar walls in their own communities. Since she created the first wall in 2011, the project has been duplicated in 10 languages and 30 countries, with Atlantic magazine calling it “one of the most creative community projects ever.”

Glidmann said he was inspired by the project’s sense of fun and spontaneity, and the fact that it’s community-based and ego-free. He’ll be keeping an eye on the wall to be sure language or content doesn’t become offensive, but he’s entering the project with a spirit of trust.

“(A few people said) ‘Are you really going to do it? Are you really going to put chalk in people’s hands? And I said ‘yes.’” He laughed.

“We’ll have to monitor it somewhat. I was going to put up a sign saying ‘please respect this space’ but we’ll see how it goes.”

If the project is successful, he may pursue plans for other public art pieces in the area, perhaps on a rotating basis.

The Goldstein family, longtime Juneauites whose history stretches back to the 1880s, owns the entire city block between Main and Seward and Front and Second Streets, Glidmann said, with the exception of the public sidewalks and a tiny strip of land. One of the reasons he’s been thinking about public art in recent months is that The Goldstein Building, on Seward Street, turns 100 years old later this year.

The artwork may or may not stay up over the winter. “It’s totally a day-to-day thing,” he said.

Similarly, those daunted by making their mark on the wall should keep in mind that they’re writing in chalk, a very temporary medium.

“If you don’t like what you wrote, you can just change it,” Glidmann said.

For more on this project, visit Chang’s blog at candychang.com/before-i-die-in-nola.

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