‘Before I Die’ wall idea explained

Proponent Barry Whaites believes it could be the most-visited and talked-about art project in Langley City.

Editor: Re: Before I Die wall, (The Times, Feb. 4).

Words cannot express how disappointed and surprised I am that the “Before I Die” wall project I proposed for Langley City was turned down by council.

My wife Donalda and I first came across such a wall in Mount Vernon, Washington. It immediately struck me as a marvellous idea. It was covered with the hopes, dreams and aspirations of ordinary people.

I had no idea at the time that it was, quite literally, a worldwide project. On Google, there are pictures of walls in about 600 cities all around the world.  I thought we really need to become part of this global community, and have one of these in Langley City.  (Incidentally, every city that sends a picture of their wall, and information about their city, gets a web page on their site).

“Before I Die” is a global art project that invites people to reflect on their lives and personal aspirations in public space. The project was started by Candy Chang on an abandoned house in New Orleans, after she lost someone she loved. There is a video of her story on Google. I urge readers to look at it.

The timing of the article in The Times was quite coincidental. Just a few earlier, in the Super Bowl pre-game, the Seahawks players were shown writing on a wall in their dressing room which was patterned after the “Beore I Die” wall.

I realize that newspaper articles are not always completely accurate, but several comments attributed to council members stuck out. One was the word “messy.” Of course the walls are messy. They are people writing with chalk. One message I saw in Mount Vernon was “I want to walk on the moon”. Does it really matter that the writing was “messy?”

Another reported comment was that the idea seemed “morbid.” That took me by surprise. The messages vary from humourous to uplifting to inspirational. There is nothing at all morbid about the project.  Another concern mentioned was that the wall would become a place for graffiti. I would have thought so too — until I spoke to the people in Mount Vernon. There has been none at all. Nor have I seen any reports of the problem from anywhere around the world.  Nor has there been a problem with “nasty” things being written (of course, they are easily erased at any rate).

One last comment about this project. It will likely be far and away the most inexpensive art project the City has ever undertaken. All the City needs to do is clad one wall with about six sheets of plywood (24 feet).

The only other materials are the “wall kit”  (look at “build your own wall” on the website). They supply materials — notably the stencil — at cost, one or two cans of blackboard paint and  a couple of cans of white spray paint. Other than erecting the plywood, I will attend to obtaining all the other materials and completing the wall myself. I will joyfully donate my labour. I have done commercial art all my life, and received two awards for my work. I know what I am doing.

If erected, I have no doubt it will also be the most-visited and talked-about art project in the City. Maybe ever.

When I read it was turned down, I first considered approaching the Township about erecting one, perhaps in Fort Langley. But the City is where it really belongs.

I would like the City to take a second look at this idea.

Barry Whaites,




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