Photo: Trevor Coe, Savannah, GA
This is a “Before I Die” wall in Savannah, Ga. If you look closely, someone wants to mix skydiving with something else before they die. You could say they are being inappropriate, but, really, who doesn’t want to get that done before they die? Let’s live a little!
Before I die I want to … write something that people will remember well after I’m gone.
It’s been a lifelong goal of mine, and I don’t think I’ve managed it yet. Hopefully, I have plenty of time to work at it. I’m probably going to need it.
Why the mortal thoughts?
It has to do with the Yankton City Commission meeting I attended last night. You can read my coverage here.
Yankton Area Arts proposed an interactive public art project to be placed near the Meridian Bridge. A 32-foot by 4-foot plywood wall will be erected with the words “Before I die I want to ______” stenciled on it. Chalk will be available for people to write in their thoughts.
The idea originated with an artist in New Orleans, and it has since spread to major cities throughout the world. Learn more about the global phenomenon here.
Yankton will be the first community in South Dakota to to have such a wall. It may very well be the smallest community to have adopted the idea, too, as far as I can tell.
To me, all of this sounds very, very cool.
Let me enumerate the reasons:
• it’s a public interactive art project;
• it offers an opportunity for people to reflect on a universal theme and be creative about sharing their thoughts on it;
• it makes Yankton part of a global art project; and
• it offers one more reason for people to visit what I consider Yankton’s crown jewel, the Meridian Bridge.
Those are just the ones off the top of my head.
Now, for the potential problems:
• people could write inappropriate words or images; and
• people could use the chalk to draw on things other than the wall.
In response to those concerns, the organizers said they will clear the board early every morning. If a vandal uses paint, the plywood can simply be painted over, they added.
“It’s definitely an experiment,” Sarah Mannes Homstad said. “We can’t guarantee it’s going to be the perfect project, and you’re never going to get a naughty word or drawing. But it’s about community, and it’s a project that, in a small way, shows that design and art can change a community. I hope you’ll take a chance on it. In a week, if we’re all pulling our hair out because of it, we’ll take it down. It’s no cost to you to do that. We don’t want it to be a burden. We want it to work.”
I felt a bit bad for Amy Miner (one of the most positive and inspiring individuals I’ve ever met) and Mannes Homstad because the discussion at the commission meeting focused almost entirely on those two potential negative aspects.
As I remember it, only one commissioner — Paul Lowrie — said anything about it being a good project — and that was after he said he was initially leaning against the idea.
It is the job of the commission to ask questions and think about the impact something like this might have on the city and its staff. In particular, commissioners were worried about the clean up of any problematic words or imagery falling on the city’s shoulders. That is totally understandable.
But what about the warm fuzzies? What about saying, “Hey, this sounds really cool and inspiring, and thank you for bringing it to us. It will be a nice addition to the community.”
Although the commission voted 7-2 in favor of the project, the impression was left, on me anyway, that the commissioners considered it more of a burden than a good idea. If the commissioners felt differently, they certainly didn’t express it.
It was up to three members of the public to say that the project was a great idea on the record.
It is also worth noting that the Park Advisory Board originally voted against allowing the project. Only after Yankton Area Arts representatives visited with the board at a later meeting did it change its mind. I wasn’t at those meetings, so I don’t know what their concerns were originally. I’m guessing besides the ones listed above, they might of had mixed feelings about allowing the project because they have decided they don’t want to do much on or near the bridge for the first year or two. That way, the city can gauge how the area is used.
All of this is a long way of saying, it seems like Yankton Area Arts had to travel a long, thankless road to get approval for a project that I would have thought would be greeted with loving and excited arms once the vandalism concerns were addressed.
It’s not the first time where I’ve felt the City Commission has put a lot of energy into picking apart a good, positive idea, but no one on the commission came back to put everything in perspective and say, “Let’s be clear, this is a great idea. We just want to make sure it has been thought through. Thank you for bringing it to us.”
Commissioners, please take some of my warm fuzzies. I love you. These warm fuzzies love you. Hand them out so they can make new friends.
I know all the city commissioners, and I personally respect them and enjoy visiting with them. That’s why I feel like I can offer them this piece of advice: Offer more positive reinforcement when it is deserved (as I think was the case last night. Sorry Dave and Pauline!). Warm fuzzies! Warm fuzzies!
I promise I won’t make fun of you for being a softie if you offer that kind of feedback a little more often. And, who knows, maybe it will make other people with good ideas less intimidated to bring them forward.
It’s a balancing act, I know, because no one wants to sit around for an hour as every commissioner says something nice. But I’m sure something can be worked out.
(P.S. Keep up your good work. You’ve got a hard job, and I appreciate the careful deliberation you put into issues before making a decision. You see, don’t warm fuzzies feel good!?)
Now, I hope I don’t have any commissioners thinking, “Before I die … I’d like to knock Nathan upside the head!” 🙂