Fill in the Blank: Candy Chang is most famous for her art installations that ask passersby what they want to do before they die. She keynotes the Conference for Women at the Westin Princeton.

The New Jersey Conference for Women, an annual networking and educational event, often has speakers of interest to the business community. This year internationally renowned artist Candy Chang will give the keynote. She is best known for a series of art installations called “Before I die,” which invited people all over the world to fill in the blank with their own aspirations:

“Before I die I want to tell my dad he’s forgiven.”

“Before I die I want to build a school.”

“Before I die I want to lose this damn weight.”

The conference will be held Friday, October 26, from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village. For more information, visit

The project began when Chang, after losing a loved one, went to an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans, and stenciled “Before I die I want to _____” on the wall. By the end of the day, the wall was full of the hopes and dreams of neighbors.

The project was replicated all over the world. It turned into a book “Before I Die,” and a TED Talk by Chang.

“Drawing upon Michel de Montaigne’s proposition that ‘to philosophize is to learn to die,’ the Before I Die project examines the ways the walls of our cities can help us grapple with death and meaning as a community today,” Cheng wrote on her website. After the death, Chang went through a long period of grief and depression. Her inner world didn’t feel like it belonged outside at all, and she realized how much we avoid discussion of death. She wanted to start a conversation, and she did: More than 4,000 “Before I Die” walls have been created in 70 countries around the world. The Atlantic called the project “one of the most creative community projects ever.”

Chang views her installations as a “memento mori” for individuals to reflect upon mortality with neighbors and passersby. On her website she says each wall “ offers a snapshot of our shared anxieties and hopes, our collective joys and struggles”

Chang, who lives in New Orleans, studied architecture, design, and urban planning. Her current work, “A Monument for the Anxious and Hopeful,” examines people’s emotional relationship with the future and is on view at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. She often collaborates with James A. Reeves on the possibilities of ritual in an age of distraction and flux, and their work can be found at Ritual Fields.

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