Our Good Bones,2023 - Ongoing

A game of dominoes reimagined as a collective effort to create a community bank.
Self-initiated and funded

In dominoes, a "pip" refers to the small dots or markings on a domino piece that represents its numerical value. This project transforms these pips into receptacles for collecting loose change that can be freely “deposited” and “withdrawn” by community members.

Our Good Bones is inspired by walks around my neighborhood park in Bushwick, where I often witnessed the conviviality in claiming and reimagining public space practiced by residents who played their nightly games of dominoes by the light of a street lamp. It builds upon my work exploring the intersections between social practice, financial redistribution, and mutual aid.

The game is informed by models of communal reciprocity, such as “take a penny, leave a penny” where patrons of convenience stores or gas stations can leave their unwanted change for the next shopper, as well as by Latin American tandas and West African sou-sous—informal and community-based rotating savings and credit associations. The title refers to the group of domino pieces from which players draw dominoes—the "boneyard.” A notable element of the game is the light teasing players give each other. Taunts of “doggy, go digging in the boneyard” can be heard when a player isn’t able to lay down a tile. I wanted to recast the value of coins and loose change buried under the couch or gathering dust in a mason jar. Our reduced use of cash lessens the chance for coins to accrue to a substantial amount. Then, there is the hassle of buying coin wrappers, sorting the coins, and taking them to the bank or a Coinstar (coin-cashing machines with high processing fees). However, in dominoes, the “boneyard” is cast as something that continues to hold value and usefulness.

Design by Tzu Yun Wei.

The first public game was held in Bushwick's Maria Hernandez Park on Sunday, October 15th. A total of 17 games of dominoes were played that afternoon, and a total of $276 was given out or donated to local Bushwick organizations.

The first public session took place in Maria Hernandez Park on Sunday, October 15th. Prior to the event, I collected coins from the “donors” in my social circle and trekked all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. I filled the coin wrappers with roughly $400 worth of change. The twenty-eight-piece set of dominoes, made of wood and drilled with coin-sized holes, are designed to collect a total of $363. This amount was determined by considering the minimum monthly income for recycling workers in New York City. According to New York’s “Bottle Bill,” recycling workers can make up to $12 per day (240 cans at $0.05 a piece) at any grocery store selling canned and bottled beverages.

Approximately seventeen games of dominoes were played by individuals, friend groups, or families with young children. The games were facilitated by artist Tommy Martinez, who played a pivotal role in encouraging participation and explaining the rules in Spanish. Upon winning a game, the players could elect to either keep their winnings or donate them to a local cause with the guarantee that I would double the donation. By the end of the day, $80 was taken, and $196 was donated to Bushwick Ayuda Mutua, Sure We Can’s recycling center, and the Bushwick Free Store.

Looking ahead into 2024, I will continue holding games in the same neighborhood while experimenting with methods to collect more coins. Eventually, I plan on reconstructing the dominoes set into sidewalk furniture that can continue to serve as a community bank. Hopefully, with participation from the community, the money given to and taken from the bank will fluctuate, and Our Good Bones will create a cycle that invites community stewardship. Video

Text and images on this page was originally published in Issue 0 of Fortunately Magazine, an annual print & online publication on art, cultural work and solidarity economies.