The Art of Compassion

August 12, 2017
Frank Vaia, Clothing Stylist


Frank Vaia




I'm easing into this blog with a friendly alert: Although your gut reaction may be “well, that’s morbid” what you’re about to read addresses personal reflection, aspirations and self-empowerment. It’s all about living in a healthful state of mind, living in the moment, and certainly living beautifully...whatever beautifully means to you.

Living Life Beautifully

I’m involved as a volunteer with a fundraising initiative jointly created by HCI Care Services of Iowa, Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa and Amanda the Panda. It’s aptly named “Art of Compassion”.

The Art of Compassion

This project actually culminates with a celebration on the evening of October 12 in the Capital Square building’s atrium. But what leads up to that night is the subject I’m addressing in this blog. It’s a 3-month long public interactive art project with the theme "Before I Die, I want to…"

Before I Die...

Hold on. Now don’t get all morbid minded on me. Let me explain (with the help of material garnished from the Before I Die… website) how the art installations truly focus on life...your life...the lives of people in our community.

Candy Chang

I paraphrase from the website: After losing someone she loved and experiencing deep depression, artist Candy Chang created an interactive wall on an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood. She wanted to provide a place to help her restore perspective and share her feelings with neighbors while remaining anonymous. She slathered the wall with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with a grid of the sentence “Before I die, I want to…”

Candy Chang Before I Die Project

Anyone walking by could pick up a piece of provided chalk, reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations. Within days, the wall was covered in responses filling the lines, margins, anywhere there was space: “Before I Die, I want to...sing for millions...plant a tree...straddle the International Date Line...abandon all my more everything, be completely myself.”

Candy posted a few wall images on social media, and soon after she began receiving messages from people around the world who wanted to make walls in their communities. Currently, over 1,000 “Before I Die. I want to...” walls have been installed in over 35 languages in more than 70 countries including Iraq, Kazakhstan, Haiti, China, Ukraine, Portugal, Japan, Denmark, Argentina, and in South America.

Before I Die Around The World

Guess what? I’m thrilled that we can now add Des Moines, Iowa to the list! On July 21, I helped with the installation of two of three bilingual--English and Spanish--”Before I Die, I want to…” walls. Sunday, July 23 I participated in the unveiling of them.

Art of Compassion Unveiling

There was a crowd of staff and supporters from the participating organizations, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, some media, and especially meaningful to me, some of my family and friends. Watching people declare their dreams, wants, things that are really important to them is pretty moving. I’m still reeling. I do wear my heart on my shirt sleeve.

Stating Your Dreams

I invite you to experience the walls. See for yourself what people write. Write what’s on your mind or in your heart. The walls will remain in place until mid-October and will be erased frequently so you can return and write on or read them as many times as you like.

The locations are:

Art Installation at Des Moines Social Club


  The outside east wall at the Des Moines Social Club downtown at 9th and Cherry.



Art Installation in the East Village, Des Moines


The street level below the Rooftop Bar in the East Village along both E. 6th and E.Grand.



Art Installation at the Iowa State Fair


And on Expo Hill at the fairgrounds during the Iowa State Fair August.



In a blog I wrote a few months ago recalling my first year’s experiences as a K. Renee staffer, I mentioned how our owners Kelli, Jeff and Julie respect and support the community work done by team members. My involvement in “Art of Compassion” and the “Before I Die…” walls is one example. Believe me when I say I’m thankful. By the way, the three of them do their fair share as well.

I ask you to think about some things I said in the very first paragraph of this blog: ...self your life ‘beautifully’ as defined by you”.

At K. Renee, it’s our business and pleasure to play a role in those aspirations. Not only with the clothing, shoe and home furnishing merchandise we offer, but also with how we strive (through our styling expertise) to awaken and nourish your creativity and all of us carve our beautiful paths on this planet.

Walk With The Dreamers

Julie also wanted me to share with you some information about another special art exhibition...and that is one that we are holding right here at K. Renee this Thursday evening. Our home store will be showcasing some of their newest art collections! You will be able to view an abundance of one-of-a-kind original paintings as well as giclee and prints.

Art Exhibition at K. Renee

You might also remember that we are also having our Theory style event that evening as well. So we decided to make Thursday, August 17th a gallery of wonderful options and invited one of the hottest new food trucks, Big Acai, to sit in our parking lot so you can try one of the healthiest and most delicious treats being served in town!

Big Acai and Theory

So just what is this healthy and delicious treat? It too looks like a beautiful piece of artwork and inside you will find Acai Berry sorbet combined with your choice of other organic ingredients into one amazing bowl!

Acai Bowls in Des Moines

Thursday will be an inspired night. And I know that you won't want to miss out on at least 1 (if not all three) of these artistic diversions. 

Compassionately Yours, Frank