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Chalk it up: Art project chronicles community's dreams

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If Shilpa Darivemula '13 gets her way, a simple three-paneled chalkboard will help energize a city she has called home for the past four years.

The Vienna, Va., pre-med student is the brains behind a community art project to inspire people to publicly share a piece of their bucket list. Starting next week, the eight-foot tall chalkboard will make its debut downtown on Jay Street, where, for the next three weeks, visitors are encouraged to complete the sentence, "Before I Die I Want To…"

With the blessing of Schenectady officials, the chalkboard will then shift to three other spots in the city for three weeks each, including Jerry Burrell Park, Central Park and the Upper Union Street business district. Rebecca Calvo-Cruz '16 will photograph the board each week before wiping it clean and then post the pictures to Facebook.

The idea for the project came from artist Candy Chang, who, after the death of someone close to her, painted "Before I Die..." on an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans in 2011. The project got an overwhelming response and has since been replicated in more than 40 countries.

"I want to foster a community spirit," said Darivemula, as she and Tori Chee '13, rolled paint onto the board in the wood shop of Facilities one afternoon this week.
"The message is to pay attention to life. Time passes by so quickly."

Darivemula admits the chalkboard could be inviting to vandals or those who opt to write inappropriate things. A team of up to a dozen students in town for summer research will police the board regularly.

"If things go bad, we have a way to fix that," she said.

Engineering students Seamus Feider-Sullivan '13 and Josh Anderson '13 designed the chalkboard, while Facilities Mike Bruce, Aaron Lagasse and Mike Connelly helped build it and will move it from each location. Samantha Tyler '14 will step in to oversee the project when Darivemula isn't available.

Darivemula received a $500 Intellectual Enrichment Grant, which provides funding to students and clubs for speakers, trips and other activities.

So when the board goes up next week, what will Darivemula write? The biology and Spanish major, who will spend the next year as a Watson fellow before beginning medical school, pauses before completing the sentence, "Before I die…"

"I would learn to live in the present."

To read an article about the project in the Times Union, click here.

To track postings on the board and view photographs, click here