World-renowned artist and urban designer Candy Chang engages communities to share everything from their greatest hopes to their deepest anxieties in public. The Atlantic calls her artwork Before I Die “one of the most creative community projects ever.” In her captivating and intimate talks, she demystifies the creative process, inspires personal reflection, and provokes new ideas for community and well-being.
Through the activation of public spaces around the world, Candy Chang provokes both playful and profound visions for how we can connect, reflect, and nurture the health of our communities. Chang is best known for the Before I Die project, which began when she stenciled the words “Before I die I want to _______” on a chalkboard wall on an abandoned house in New Orleans after losing someone she loved. The participatory project has since grown into a global phenomenon and today there are over 2,000 Before I Die walls in over 70 countries, including Iraq, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and South Africa. The Before I Die project and subsequent book, which features walls around the world and insights into our aspirations, have been featured on CNN, NBC, TED, AP News, and Wired.
“Through a series of large-scale projects that combine installation art with social activism, Chang has encouraged people to engage with public spaces to let their voices be heard.”— O Magazine
A TED Senior Fellow, Urban Innovation Fellow, and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, Chang has also created installations for people to share their hopes for vacant storefronts, a confessional sanctuary in a Las Vegas casino, designated sites for crying in Hong Kong, and a civic tool called Neighborland.com for people to collaborate on the future of their communities. Her work has been exhibited in the Venice Architecture Biennale, New Museum, and Tate Modern. She was also named one of the Top 100 Leaders in Public Interest Design by Impact Design Hub and a “Live Your Best Life” Local Hero by Oprah Magazine.
“You could have dropped a pin on the floor during your talk—we were spellbound by you. It was big, it was deep, and it was one of the most compelling talks and moments I’ve ever experienced. Your calm and soothing tone during your opening keynote was provocative in big picture thinking, emotional, thoughtful, and a game changer for many of us in the room. Thank you for sharing your incredible intelligence, your raw feelings, and your big world view. Wow, wow, wow…”Motion Picture and Television Fund
“Thank you for spending time with our scholars this past weekend. I wish you could have heard all the incredible things that they said about you and how much your stories have inspired them. Seeing how you’ve made your own discipline, found the freedom of being ‘scrappy,' persevered through grief, and most of all, empowered ‘quiet' people with a voice... My mind is pretty much blown. Please know that your willingness to share your personal journey was appreciated in ways you cannot imagine and will continue to resonate with us all for years to come. The weekend could not have been the incredible success it was without you.”Bezos Scholars
“Your presentation resonated strongly with me, as well as your voice and its distinctive calm quality. I heard the story you told as if it were suffused with a steady glowing light, emanating with a clear sense of purpose. What also remains with me from your talk is that as an urban planner, it was your deep dissatisfaction with community engagement that compelled you to step into a new role, challenging and reshaping community outreach and connection. Your passion and creative thoughts on bringing out the best in people and communities is inspiring. I very much aspire to speak of my life’s work with the same sense of inspired serenity as you do.”Simon Fraser University
“Your presentation was so inspiring at the academy event this morning. Your personal story and healing was palpable, and the Before I Die project is a beautifully simple way of getting people in our communities to live better by talking about dying. It was very moving to me, and you did it without being saccharine. I appreciate your wisdom and how you have expanded our horizons. My wife died six months ago and I am grieving, but hearing you this morning gave me hope.”American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
“Just saw you speak at SCAD and wanted to say thanks for being a positive force in the universe. I brought my college aged son who has been dealing with some mild depression and what you said resonated with him. Please please keep doing what you do. For all you have done to make my classes around design for social impact better—sincere and humble thank you. I love how your work balances playful and thoughtful, and encourages participants and viewers to take a chance and strive for change. Thank you for allowing us all to be our vulnerable selves. I am forever in your debt.”Savannah College of Art and Design
“Your presentation was brilliant and opened so many areas for conversation. Your projects are able to engage communities in such a pure and straightforward manner that is so effective. I can’t help but think that the Before I Die project is so much more than a wall: it’s a place to come to terms, to realize, to confess, to write love on ones arms. It’s a glimpse, a chance, to challenge, to change, to go after our dreams. I think we all need to be reminded that life is still worth fighting for.”Sydney Vivid Ideas Festival
“I heard you speak at the Vistage event this week and I want to let you know you touched me deeply. I love the honesty of your work, the fact that it has a clear social agenda, is about and for people, and somehow seems familiar yet remains refreshing. Thank you for sharing, so courageously, what you do. I was so inspired. During your speech, the woman next to me was quietly crying. I was nervous to reach out to her, since I didn’t know her. Then I thought of how brave you are and how you are talking about connecting to people, so I reached out and touched her on the leg. She was so grateful. It was a small moment and a small gesture, but it made a small connection and you inspired it.”Vistage
“I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to have you here, after many years of following your work and admiring your gifts around the art of starting a community conversation. So many people have told me how much they appreciated your talk, your reflections on life and how they influenced your work, and the way you walked us through so many ideas on living a more thoughtful life. Your presentation was provocative in the best way, prompting several discussions about things we should explore that hadn’t previously been on our radar. Thank you so much for coming and enriching all of our lives.”Metropolitan Planning Council
“I saw you speak at the Global Health Summit and I can't tell you how much your talk touched and inspired me. I have struggled with my own mental health issues recently and the questions you were asking resonated so deeply with me. Thank you for sharing what is a really difficult thing to talk about with a public audience. You are so brave and you also inspired me professionally. Your talk made me think about expanding my work so it engages the community in some way… I don't know what it will look like yet but I wanted to thank you for making me think about it in a new way.”Global Health Summit
Making Space for Creativity and Innovation
Where do good ideas come from? Through historic inspirations and personal experiences, Candy Chang shows that innovation rarely comes from a flash of genius, but instead from an open-minded attitude of curiosity and experimentation. She demystifies her path to show how her meandering journey led her to create her most famous projects, and how each of us can embrace our eclectic backgrounds to make our own discipline. She also shares how her experiences as an introvert led her to create participatory public art projects, and how the moments when we struggle most can be turned into our greatest opportunities to serve others. From a street art project that grew into a nation-wide startup to the global Before I Die project, now in over 2,000 cities, Chang discusses strategies that can be applied to all communities, from workplaces to neighborhoods, and shares tools that have helped her cultivate her own creativity.
We All Have Mental Health Issues Our Inner Worlds in Public
Candy Chang argues that we all have mental health issues. At various times in our lives, we experience stress, sorrow, anxiety, or confusion, and these feelings can easily escalate into more intense conflicts like addiction, depression, and self-destruction if we ignore them. In this keynote, Chang shares her personal experiences with grief and depression and how she has channeled her emotional struggles into her participatory public art experiments, including spaces for anonymous confessions. By exposing more of our interior world in public, she hopes that attention to mental health becomes less stigmatized. Drawing upon her body of work, she shares what she has learned from thousands of honest and vulnerable responses from people around the world, and reveals ways we might gain new perspectives on the role we play in our relationships with others as well as our relationship with ourselves. Finally, she discusses a range of practical tools that have helped her cultivate her mental health and shows that what we might consider our weaknesses can become our strengths.
Before I Die
A small seed of an idea can be the source of dramatic innovation. When Candy Chang stencilled the phrase “Before I die I want to_____” onto a derelict house in New Orleans after she lost someone she loved, she invited anyone and everyone to participate. It was a simple act. And with it, she unleashed the latent creativity amongst the thousands of people who have taken part around the world. Her project not only encourages people to contemplate their greatest hopes and aspirations, but it offers a space to develop our own comfort talking about grief and death. In this talk, Chang shares the project in-depth, including the process, responses, global themes, and remixes, as well as cultural histories around death and grief that can help inform a more compassionate society. Often paired with a real Before I Die wall for attendees to share, Chang’s talks provide a poignant and profound experience for people to restore perspective and reflect on their lives together.