Yesterday in the paper there was a pic of my daughter participating in the Chalk project, part of a profile of the wonderful Ruth Sergel. (And my first NYT photo credit!) I’ve written about Chalk several times — in The Forward back in 2007, on my blog in 2009 when Josie marched with today’s garment workers in the Labor Day Parade, and on my blog last year when the HBO crew followed Josie as she chalked. I think Chalk is everything a participatory art project should be — the barrier to entry is low; there is no pretentiousness to it; it draws connections between people rather than separating us. The Chalk project is volunteers fanning out across the city (though mainly the East Village and Lower East Side) to chalk the names and ages of the Triangle Fire victims in front of the places they used to live. Sometimes the tenements are still there, looking much as they did 100 years ago. Sometimes there’s a schmancy dress store at the address; sometimes the address itself is eradicated, replaced by a humungous apartment complex. The act of Chalking — being on your knees on the sidewalk — feels penitent; it’s uncomfortable. It puts you touch with the map of the city then and now. Taking the time to write the names of these women, most of whom died before their lives had truly gotten started, helps reassure us they’re not forgotten. This year, on the 100th anniversary of the fire, everyone wants to Chalk. Next year Ruth will be scrambling for volunteers again.


  1. Even in Australia March 21, 2011 at 9:49 am

    It’s on my calendar for next year. I already checked – it’s a Sunday!

  2. Robin Aronson March 21, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Me, too! If you can, share with us where one might sign up. Thanks!

  3. marjorieingall March 21, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Excellent! Go to, or email ruth (at)

  4. this year’s CHALK March 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    […] As usual, Josie and I participated in the CHALK Project, writing the names of victims of the Triangle Factory Fire in front of the places they once lived. And as usual, Josie chalked for Kate Leone, the youngest of the victims. But something new: Maxie joined us for the first time this year. I wasn’t sure how much she understood (she’s seven and a more otherworldly kid than Josie was at her age) but at bedtime, she asked whether the Triangle Fire was around the same time as “when Rebecca lived” — her American Girl doll. As it turns out, one of the Rebecca books is set against the backdrop of the labor strikes of the 1910s and discusses the role of Clara Lemlich. Once again I am forced to admit that despite the consumerist fuckwittage of these farshtunkiner zillion-dollar dolls, the books are really smart and educational. […]

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