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Friday, Jul 06, 2012 - Canvassed | Art & culture

A once-empty wall poses a big question

Hillcrest public-art project finds space in the side of Alibi bar

By Amy Granite
before+i+die Rory Thompson, 11, is dreaming big.
- Photo by Amy T. Granite
There's a new public art display in Hillcrest that proves walls can, in fact, talk. 

The giant chalk board decorates the side of the Alibi bar (1403 University Ave.) facing Richmond Street, and is part of the business' makeover. Besides a remodeled interior and the interactive art outside, the bar's entertainment guru and main man responsible for getting the chalkboard up, Andrew Barajas, is also revamping the Alibi's events to include more arts-related happenings.  

When Barajas brought the global art project Before I Die to Alibi owner Joe Patron's attention, Patron agreed to fund the piece that serves as an interactive conversation-starter. As one observer put it, it’s a "real life" Facebook wall for folks to write down their hopes, aspirations and funnies for the public to read and think about.  

The Before I Die movement was born out of founding artist Candy Chang's experience of losing a loved one too soon. Chang—a public-installation artist and designer—first introduced the concept on the side of her New Orleans home, and it was a hit. Quite simply, by providing chalk and the giant board, which is lined several times over with "Before I die I want to," Chang initiated a lively conversation in her neighborhood, still downtrodden from Hurricane Katrina. Now, Chang sells Before I Die installation kits, and the Alibi is the only place in town you'll find one. 

Before Patron purchased his kit, Barajas paid a visit to the city's planning department, equipped with a photo of where the art would hang on the building, and examples of Chang's work. "The whole process took about an hour and a half of my time," he said. "The city planning employees who I showed it to all loved it."

San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria is also a fan of the installation. He tweeted earlier this week: "Check out the new interactive public art at University & Richmond in #Hillcrest. This is *so* District 3! #love." 

"The new public art installation is a great addition to Hillcrest," Gloria told CityBeat. "I love that it invites participation, and reading the contributions of others can be thought-provoking, inspiring, and entertaining."

Barajas said the 98 slots usually fill up in a day or so. When he sees it's full, he wipes it down so that everyone who walks by has the opportunity to write.  

Rory Thompson applauding her mom, Stephanie, for admitting that 
she worries too much. Amy T. Granite

"I like to stand by the fire hydrantout front [of the Alibi] and watch people write on it, and interact," Barajas said. "One day, I saw someone write, 'I'm lonely and would like some friends,' and even posted their phone number. That made me sad."

Sometimes, you can connect with people as they write their "Before I die" wish; others, you’re left only with their words.

"Public art makes people look around. It can bring attention to a business, or just brighten your day,” said Barajas, who's an advocate for more street art. "People have blinders on; they're looking at Facebook and Instagram, not their surroundings. Street art changes people by opening their eyes.  

 
 
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