An Interview with Candy Chang Photo by Kristina Kassem.

Even though one of her most emblematic projects is titled “Before I Die…”, Candy Chang (BFA 2001) is driven by hope, not fear. A graphic designer with the scale and scope of a public artist, her boundless optimism and curiosity generates projects from stickers and urban development projects, to information design for NYC street vendors and monuments, to literary travels.

Candy painted a wall of an abandoned house with chalkboard paint in New Orleans following the death of a close friend. Now that project, Before I Die…, includes over 400 walls in over 60 countries, enabling people to reflect and share their personal aspirations in a public format. Before I Die… has prompted visitors to declare “I want to end child abuse”, “marry a pirate,” and “have an open heart,” among countless other wishes. Her book about the project was just published by St Martin’s Press.

“Before I Die...”, 2011 - present. Click to view larger images.

As a dual degree student in Art & Design and Architecture at U of M, Candy says she experimented a lot, struggling to focus on one thing. In retrospect, she values the perspective that each new experience gave her. She councils that all creatives should make their own disciplines, and that disciplines are as wide or as small as you are willing to make them. In a lecture she delivered to a packed house at Wayne State last summer, (part of an evening entitled “Joy, Joy, Joy in Urban Space”) Candy ruminated on her student days and the range of work she made — stickers and flyers for bands, stop-motion animations, starting a small record label, some bad video art (her words) and silkscreening. Candy Chang went on to a position at the New York Times, laying out the daily paper, and to graduate school at Columbia University.

Posting flyers on street lamps and utility poles in Ann Arbor and Detroit was one her early forays into public art and design dialogue – using highly effective local communication tools that paved the way for a series of provocative self-initiated projects that function with this same direct communication. She has created sticker projects that promote dialogue and idea generation (“I Wish this Was…”, ) through open prompts that allow people to interact in their own time.

“I Wish This Was…”, 2010. Click to view larger images.

These projects are, at the same time, small interventions and engaging ways to collect data. Working in Detroit and then New York after graduation, Candy was drawn to empty storefronts and underutilized spaces. She continues to mine public structures, from single walls to a vacant Fairbanks, Alaska hotel (“Looking for Love Again”) in a manner she describes as “the love child of urban planning and street art.”

“Public spaces,” Candy proclaims,
“are as profound as we want them to be.”

“Looking for Love Again”, 2011. Click to view larger images.

Candy’s work has been exhibited in the Venice Biennale, the Centre for the Living Arts, and the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. She is a TED Senior Fellow, a Tulane Urban Innovation Fellow, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. She holds a BS in Architecture and a BFA in Graphic Design from University of Michigan, and a MS in Urban Planning from Columbia University. She is currently working on The Academy of Modern Ruin, a library of Philosophical musings to be housed in an unusual structure. Stay tuned, stay open, and stay curious.

“The School of the Future”, 2013. Click to view larger images.

For more info on Candy Chang, visit




Inspired by your work!

Posted by Anne Marie Harm on December 17, 2013

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