The Collegian
Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Chalk etchings along a wall at eye level

During the pre-dawn hours of daylight saving time, the sidewalks of Charleston, S.C., were pulsing with the flurry of discombobulated people who had spent their extra hour out at the bars. My friend, Harry, swung me onto a side street en route to my brother's house. We dipped through an opening in the trees and walked across a parking lot toward a small, obscure building.

I faced the closest wall, black-painted and splashed with street lights. All the way across its length were columns of white words: "Before I die I want to..." Etched into the wall was a sweep of color and varying ambitions by faceless people who had made it here before me.

For all the times I have returned to this holy city, with church spires rising at every angle of the eye, I have never encountered a wall that I was invited to scrawl with graffiti. Later I learned this was a legitimate invitation. The wall I stood before belonged to the Redux Contemporary Art Center. The curators seek to redesign the local art community through displays of contemporary art by risk-taking artists, according to the Redux website. "Before I Die" is an exhibit by Nicole Diefenbach and the sixth mural to grace the building's outer walls. The Redux curators describe the exhibit as "an interactive public art project where we can discover the ambitions of the people around us."

It's a risk to let others superimpose their visions onto your own. Yet I've seen that it works in art. I've witnessed the alfresco version of a risk. So why can an entire city of people make this flourish when it seems our campus cannot?

This semester, The Collegian's opinion pages have been riddled with impassioned responses to separate columns about women and dress, and, most recently, religion. And it has been wonderful to have a full Gmail inbox with waves of submissions and to see students interacting through written debate. But I hope this has not led to a loss of communal spirit. I've listened to many friends lately lamenting their views that campus lacks diversity, that materialism is rampant.

But the opinion pages circulating on campus have shown that we are in fact very different. Although we may mostly wear preppy clothes, drive nice cars and have more than we could ever need, we often seem to overreact when differences in beliefs surface. We are so quick to respond when someone else's words contradict our own thoughts that we forget to really hear what they are saying.

The wall on that side street in Charleston is a display of collective consciousness - dreams are not meant to be erased, only enhanced. Beliefs can be seen the same way. They are like artwork, meant to be seen at eye-level, considered and added to.

On the morning of daylight saving time, Harry's open palm slipped through the light in front of my face. Two pieces of chalk came into focus. "Pick one," he said. I snagged the pink one, twirling it against my fingertips as I returned my stare to the wall. I pressed the tip to the surface and began to write, chalk dust falling like snow that we left for someone else to find.

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