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The more daring souls took the plunge immediately, writing down their hopes and dreams on the big, black chalkboard. More pensive pedestrians lingered before baring their soul to Friday’s onlookers.

It’s not every day that you get to announce your most intimate life goals to the community on a public art installation. But for the next month Missoulians are encouraged to write what they want to do before they die on a giant 24-by-7-foot chalkboard hanging on the west side of the Central Park parking garage on West Main Street downtown.

Part art installation and part community activity, the board was officially unveiled to the public Friday afternoon by Mayor John Engen and Syann Stevens, co-founder of, a community bartering website.

“At first I wanted to write, ‘I want to eat mayonnaise with a spoon,’ ” Engen joked as he walked up to the installation, self-conscious about his penmanship.

Instead, his vision was a tasteful “Before I die, I want to leave this place a little better than when I entered it, like so many before me have done.”

The words “Before I die, I want to ...” are stenciled in white block letters at the top of the board, and people are encouraged to complete the sentence by with their own thoughts written in chalk.

Two teenage girls on skateboards stopped and were intrigued by the idea. One wrote that she wanted to become an actress and travel the world before skating away with her friend.

The board was the brainchild of New Orleans-based artist Candy Chang, who has a history of installing art projects in public spaces. Her goal is to bring communities together and start a dialogue between neighbors who might not ordinarily speak about such intimate topics.

“Together, we’ve shown how powerful our public spaces can be if we are given the opportunity to have a voice and share with one another,” Chang said in a recent TED Talk.


After the concept came to fruition on a vacant building in New Orleans, Chang was inundated with messages from people who were taken with the idea and wanted to re-create the project in their community.

Since then, communities in 52 countries have worked with her to erect similar installations, including in Argentina, Kazakhstan, South Africa and Australia. Missoula’s was the 289th installation in the world.

To get it here, Stevens went directly to Engen, who also was enthusiastic about the idea. Stevens said the board echoes her nonprofit’s principles, and Engen said it fits in with the values of the Missoula community.

A few more people stopped by Friday afternoon to write their goals on the board. Some were funny aspirations such as, “Before I die, I want to go on a city slicker old West cattle drive.”

Others were more serious: “Before I die, I want to figure out what I am good at.”

“It’s moving to have that kind of insight into people’s hopes and dreams,” Engen said.

And people shouldn’t feel vulnerable or exposed, he said.

“You just have to have the energy to step up and speak your truth, and it doesn’t have to be anyone else’s,” he added.

After the chalkboard is taken down in October, it will be displayed at the Zootown Arts Community Center, 235 N. First St. W.

Reporter Kathryn Haake can be reached at 523-5268 or at

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