Sophie Miller, one half of the couple that installed the “Before I Die” wall of Thursday’s front-page story, never intended to see it again — and she and Dan Meredith, her partner-in-crime, never planned for people to know that they were the duo behind the public art project. After the pair installed the 8 by 24-foot boards, and watched people fill them in from a bar across the street, Miller packed up her things and moved away from the District the next morning. “It was a grand exit,” she said.
Before Miller and Meredith left, they sent some photos to Candy Chang, the originator of “Before I Die,” just so she would know that a new board was up in a new city — but they did nothing else to publicize their efforts.
“The intention wasn't to be known that we did it, the goal was for it to be community-owned,” said Meredith. “It was cool to see people randomly stumbling on it on Twitter. People were sending me e-mails: ‘You should go check this out, it's something you would like.’”
They drove Miller’s belongings to her family’s house in Massachusetts, and then set off for a camping trip in New Hampshire, as a vacation before Miller would depart for Uppsala, Sweden, for grad school. They were off the grid — and though they knew that the wall was popular, they were unaware that the mural was getting buzz on blogs like DCist and the local Huffington Post, and that the official “Before I Die” wall Twitter account had outed them as the creators of the installation.
They would have remained blissfully unaware of it, too, if the camping trip had gone as planned. Instead, Miller hurt her hand early on in the trip, and they had to get back to civilization so she could get medical attention. If that hadn’t happened, they wouldn’t have been aware of the sensation they had created on 14th Street until at least Sunday.
Though they didn’t plan to take credit for the project, they weren’t upset that Chang had “outed” them, Meredith said.
“To a certain degree, it's empowering for the community to see how easy it is for them to do something like this, as well,” he said. “You can look at something like this and think, ‘I can't do that.’ This was a couple of days of combined effort. When you look at it all, it just sort of happened.”
Though Miller assumed that she would never see the installation again, Meredith said in an interview Wednesday that, with the camping trip ruined, they were planning to come back to D.C. this week — so Miller will be able to see the wall once more. She hopes that it will influence others to take on art projects that energize public spaces.
“D.C. doesn't have a lot of this kind of art,” she said. “I love D.C., but I find it really sterile. Everybody benefits from this kind of community space ... Art begets art. The more you have things like this, the more people feel empowered to do them.”
But when Miller and Meredith return, they won’t be able to see all of the messages that were left in their absence. Heavy rain last night washed some of the board away, according to Beau Monroe, who works at the Pearl Dive across the street — so many of the responses that are pictured in the photo gallery above have faded.. However, Monroe says that people have already started to fill in the blank spaces with more of their hopes.
Update: Because Miller and Meredith put the wall up on the construction barrier around the former laundromat without permission from the site’s owner, they were concerned that someone could remove the project. The former laundromat will become Parc Deux, a restaurant by Stephen Starr. Randi Sirkin, director of creative services for Starr Restaurants, says the company is aware of the wall and had no plans to remove it. “We think it’s kind of cool,” she said.