A new public art piece in Coolidge Park next to the Market Street Bridge aims to inspire and uplift Chattanoogans.
The Before I Die wall is an interactive art project that features several lines that read "Before I die I want to" stenciled onto giant boards painted black with chalk paint. It is intended to inspire people to contemplate death and reflect on life while sharing personal aspirations in the spaces provided on each line.
"This is particularly meaningful to me," said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who spoke at the wall's unveiling. "In the last two weeks, my wife has lost two uncles who were brothers to cancer. One who lived in Texas and passed away suddenly after receiving a treatment yesterday."
Berke said he hopes the wall will add meaning to Chattanoogans' day-to-day lives.
"It can be a place for people to talk about their anxieties and their depressions and their problems, but also a way to talk about their aspirations and their hopes and their dreams," Berke said. "It creates that community feeling we desire."
Community member Irv Ginsburg, also at the unveiling, said the wall holds special meaning for him. He lost his wife, Nada Ginsburg, eight years ago to lung cancer that migrated to her brain. He said she left his family with a legacy they'll never forget.
"Before [my wife] died, my daughter asked her if she was upset; she said she wasn't upset, she was disappointed," he said as his eyes welled up. "She told her, 'I'm going to miss the wonderfuls.'"
She was referring to all of the graduations, weddings and births, he said. So now, his family makes a point to "not miss the wonderfuls." In fact, he said, he just got back from Kansas City where his youngest granddaughter graduated elementary school.
"When my daughter called, I said 'I'm there!' You just don't miss that kind of stuff," he said.
Hospice of Chattanooga worked with Public Art Chattanooga to install the wall in Chattanooga. The goal was to create an opportunity for Chattanoogans to think about life and live every day as if it were their last, said Tracy Wood, CEO of Hospice.
The original wall was created by Candy Chang, a New Orleans-based artist who wanted to channel her grief in a creative way after someone she loved died, so she covered a crumbling, abandoned house in her neighborhood with wooden boards and painted them in the same fashion as the one in Chattanooga.
"People's hopes and dreams made her laugh out loud, tear up, and feel consolation during some of her toughest times," an entry on her website states.
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.
CORRECTION: A misattributed quote has been corrected.