New wall full of dreams in Champaign

New wall full of dreams in Champaign

CHAMPAIGN — If you're the kind of person who needs to commit to a life goal in writing, you now have a chance to do so in a public place.

A new public-art installation allows anyone to write down what they'd like to do before they die, using chalk.

The wall, which is just north of University Avenue on Market Street in downtown Champaign, was installed Wednesday and is already full of written hopes and dreams.

It includes a header that says "Before I die ..." and includes dozens of stenciled fill-in-the-blank lines that start, "Before I die I want to." The idea is, people will pass by, pick up a piece of chalk and fill in their own goals.

Those wishes — some funny, some poignant, some a little risque —were filled in quickly as three local women created the wall Wednesday.

Lisa Meid — who created the wall with Joanna Strauss and Nancy Willamon, all of Champaign — said as they finished stenciling white writing to the right side of the mural, people were already filling in the left side.

Meid said the group headed to a print shop to make a poster with instructions for the wall. They returned and found the lines filled up, within 90 minutes.

Willamon got the idea for the wall from her son, Brad Busboom, who lives in Detroit, last fall. He had seen an online talk given by artist Candy Chang, who created the original in New Orleans.

Chang sells kits to help people create "Before I Die" walls, and they are now all over the world. You can see them at The kits include stencils, chalk, gloves and instructions on how to create a wall.

Busboom ordered Willamon a kit about two months ago, and Willamon got Strauss involved because of her "high energy," she said. Strauss then recruited Meid, who got permission from the building's owner, Dr. Bill Youngerman, and the city, to install the walls.

They used flat black paint and white spray paint to create the wall, with the help of Meid's father, J.M. Bialeschki, who brought rollers and ladders and all the other painting necessities. They finished in one day, citing sunny, dry weather with a wind Wednesday.

The wall is textured enough, Willamon said, that they didn't have to use any sort of special chalkboard paint. The chalk is just regular sidewalk chalk, as well.

They didn't say much about the project before they started it Wednesday, and Meid said they expected it to take at least a few days for people to catch on how to use it.

Willamon said she saw it as a "Field of Dreams" scenario: "If you build it, they will come."

"It just took off like wildfire," she said, calling it "so joyful and so much fun."

It takes people by surprise, Willamon and Meid said, and makes them think.

"It begs participation," Meid said.

Strauss said she found the project wasn't hard and just required logistical planning and some supplies. Such heavy participation so quickly shows that people were curious about what they were up to and wanted to participate.

"It really leads you to think it's an awesome use of underutilized space," Strauss said.

The organizers have erased a few chalk messages that feature inappropriate language. Every few weeks, the organizers plan to photograph the messages written on the wall and wash it down so more people can participate. They'll post photos online, at a site they're still determining.

That will probably continue until the weather gets bad, Willamon said.

Meid also included a poster remembering the late Irina Stewart, a friend of hers who died suddenly this spring.

"Just for me, personally, it meant a lot because she lived this kind of life," Meid said, adding that Mrs. Stewart knew what she wanted to do and did it.

Strauss, Willamon and Meid have also put some thought into their own "Before I Die" wishes. Strauss wrote that she'll stop worrying.

Meid's goal: "Before I die, I want to make sure my kids know they are loved, wholly."

And Willamon's: "Show my grandson the joy of life."

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