Oftentimes WHSAD students leave the Van Arsdale campus to meet professionals who inspire and provide glimpses into potential futures. However, this past Tuesday, the inspirational person came to WHSAD. Artist Ruth Sergel spoke to students about her work, which brings light to social concerns and offers hope through action. One such project is Chalk, in which volunteers annually visit the former homes of the young workers who perished in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and inscribe these workers’ names in chalk outside of these homes. Ms. Sergel provided students with how the nature of artwork can provide a mobilizing force in improving societal ills and remembering the faults of the past. Ms. Sergel also shared her first book, See You in the Streets!, which provides interesting narratives regarding the work done in a project such as Chalk. The accounts in her book illustrated to WHSAD students the interesting and often unexpected trajectory of large scale, collaborative ventures. Thank you to Ms. Cahill for hosting the event during her seventh period class, to Mr. D’Amato for arranging Ms. Sergel’s visit, and to Ruth Sergel for taking time to speak with our students. Below is senior Larry Martinez’s account of Ms. Sergel’s presentation.
Today in class we had a very special visitor. Ms.Ruth Sergel spoke with us about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that occurred on March 25, 1911 and how 146 workers died, mostly immigrant women and girls. They were trapped inside when the building caught fire. It was a sad tragedy that could have been prevented if the owners would have left the doors unlocked. We saw real pictures taken on that day, and Ms. Sergel read us parts of her book and showed us a short video. Ms. Sergel explained how it was so sad and that she wanted to do more than just feel bad for the young women and try to forget the sad incident. She wanted the victims to be remembered. She explained her project, Chalk.
Every year since 2004 groups of people go to the locations of where many of the women and girls lived and in chalk write their names, their ages, when they died, and where they died so they won’t be forgotten. At the end the class asked questions and Ms. Sergel answered them. It was a very nice presentation.