|Dr. John Joyce chalks first "before I die I want to message.|
A short interview with Dr. John Joyce, President of SPPA (Supporters of Portsmouth Public Art) regarding a new art installation on High Street, Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia. Photos by Joe Elder.
Tell us about the latest public art project here in Portsmouth, Virginia. Where is it being installed?
Chalkboards will be placed on the front of the old Colony Theater on High Street here in Olde Towne Portsmouth. There are 3 chalkboards made of marine-grade plywood, painted with chalkboard paint and stenciled letters: Before I die, I want to _______________. We will furnish chalk for the next 6 months of this art installation. People like you and me have the opportunity to write a personal note to Portsmouth; an old-fashioned Tweet!
|Peter Youngblood is assisted by members of SPPA installing the chalkboards.|
Where did the idea for this board originate?
The "Before I Die" chalkboard was started by Candy Chang, after the death of a person that she loved. She constructed and installed chalkboards on an abandoned house in New Orleans. It was all an experiment and she didn’t know what to expect. By the next day, all 80 prompts were filled and responses spilled into the margins. It’s now a worldwide art project which "invites people to reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in public space." Why in Portsmouth? Why not? Our citizens have just as many hopes and dreams as anyone else. We are not just part of Tidewater Virginia but part of the world. We need to let ourselves be heard.
What are we doing with these boards that are different?
This installation is not unique. It is in over 50 countries and 100's of cities and in many languages. However, if successful, we will change the location and change the sentence. To invite public opinion of uplifting issues will be the guiding tool. We will use new sentences which beckon a response such as "I want to grow up to be____," Love is____," or "I am a true friend when____."
|Before I die chalkboards installed in historic Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia.|
Who will maintain the boards, clean them, etc.?
The SPPA (Supporters of Portsmouth Public Art) members will maintain the boards, refill the chalk, and wash the boards periodically when the rain doesn't. As for the possible crass or obscene answers (and I am certain that there will be a few) anyone can use their hand or a cloth to wipe it off and replace it with a more thoughtful response. We must not get into the mindset that our citizens are somehow less than the other people of the world. In Denver where I first saw "the before I die" boards, no obscenity or vulgarity was present. Are the people of Denver operating at a higher level than us in Portsmouth? Are their drunks or rebellious youth better behaved? No, I guess someone just wiped off the unsightly words and wrote over them, ignoring them as we do when we hear a loud-mouth person yell a obscenity. We don't ruminate; we move on.
Can you give us an overview of the Portsmouth Public Arts Association?
SPPA was founded about 3 years ago to promote public art in our city. We purchased the famous "I've been kissed" toad and installed it in front of the Children's Museum. We have been working to preserve the I.C. Norcom's friezes, the sculpture "The Sail" by Dick Cossitt, and the inside mural of the former Circle Restaurant building; all with minimal success. However, this past month we have finished the mural of the two children gazing over at the Children's Museum, painted by Sam Welty and, of course, this art installation of the chalkboards. We are a 501C3 non-profit and hope to be obtaining matching grants in the future for our projects. We need, like all organizations, donations, ideas & participation, and cooperation from Portsmouth residents.
What's next for SPPA?
The future, hopefully, will see more murals which will showcase Portsmouth's history to educate and instill pride, public pianos to again invite public involvement, street art, more sculptures with hopes of developing a sculpture garden for our city, and most importantly, taking art to the neighborhoods so each area can express its thoughts and unique personality.