BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Before I Die I want to ____________. What would you say?
In this moment what would you put in that blank? It is it to make peace with a family member? Make a difference in your community? See a far away land? Nothing is too big or too small. Just stopping to think about the answer, is the purpose of a new mural in downtown Birmingham.
In bold block letters the question is now stenciled in columns across a wall that’s been transformed with black chalkboard paint. It sits under a bridge on Morris Avenue and 21st street. A container of chalk beckons people passing by to answer.
“People are able to answer the question ‘What do they want to do before they die,’” says muralist Marcus Fetch from Redpath Creative. “If we can think upon it then hopefully our lives would become more meaningful and intentional.”
Fetch has been a long admirer of the “before I die” community engagement art project. It was started in New Orleans years ago by artist Candy Chang. So when Morris Avenue business owner Jay Brandrup asked him about painting the mural here in Birmingham he jumped at the chance.
“Public engagement pieces like this are perfect. As you can see lots of people want to speak out. They have something to say and they want to say it,” says Fetch. “Walls like this have gone up all over the world in lots of major cities and the responses have been phenomenal. People are able to answer the question what do they want to do before they die. Think about true purpose and fulfillment in their lives, making their lives meaningful and engaging with their own mortality.”
Brandrup, who is the owner of Kinetic Communications, teamed up with other Morris Avenue businesses to sponsor the mural, and help find a place to put it. The wall under the bridge was perfect for him.
“I can see it out my office window” says Brandrup. He plans to eventually install a camera that will stream a live feed of the wall here to make it even more interactive.
It was perfect for an artist like Fetch too.
“This gigantic dirty nasty white wall was here,” he explains. Now it’s full of messages of hope and inspiration.
“The response has been really awesome so far. It’s been less than two weeks and the wall is already almost filled up,” says Fetch. People started asking for chalk to write their message, before he even finished painting it.
For Fetch, the project is extremely personal.
“While I was painting it, I lost a close friend of mine. Which was a really crazy experience, but the wall is now so much more important to me,” explains Fetch.
Now in the middle of the wall, is a tribute to his friend in chalk, her name “Juby” surrounded by flowers. His grief connecting him to the original “before I die” artist.
“That’s what inspired Chang to start the original project, her good friend died and she made this wall,” says Fetch. “So I was able to connect with her on a deeper level.”
Like life, the mural will be temporary. But the idea is permanent.
“This bridge is going to get redone eventually, and I am sure by that time we will want another ‘before I die’ wall somewhere,” says Fetch. “I think every city should always have a before I die wall living for years and years so new people and new generations can come and speak their voice. It’s a very important question to think on.”
The responses and chalk art will stay up for a while, but a few times a year it will be wiped clean and reset to make room for those still waiting to answer.
When asked what his response is to the question Fetch says “Before I die, I want Birmingham to be known as the city of color. I have a dream of painting as many colorful murals as possible in town and kind of redeeming our heritage. We’re known as a city of color because of the racism that has occurred in this town from our past and I would love for it to be known as a city of color because there is so much colorful art in town.”
He is well on his way, working on other mural projects on Morris avenue and across town.
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