What Is Chalktivism?

During our meeting last week, we were discussing future chalk messages we could leave around town. Here is a snippet of our conversation:

Shiphrah: I really liked your Art As Activism post!
Heidi: Thanks! I’ve been thinking about how we can make an impact through our chalking.
Shiphrah: Chalktivism!
Heidi: (Gasp!) That’s amazing! Is that a word?! Google it!!

That's what it's called!

That’s what it’s called!

And then we googled.
It seems people have used this magical word before us, but it fits just perfectly with what we’re doing through Chalk With Me: activism through chalk.

We want to spread messages of social justice and equality. We hope to tackle varying issues concerning human rights,  animal rights and environmental justice. We want people to see the chalk, think about the message, and ask us about it if they have questions. This week, a few people expressed an interest in chalktivism and contributing to Chalk With Me. We are excited to spread the chalk further and wider. We need all the help we can get, because we have a lot of ground to cover. We will never run out places to chalk at.

Had you heard of the word ‘chalktivism’ before today? 


Chalk With S: What’s an Equality?

It is an interesting moment for me to talk about equality. I have spent the last few days holding my breath and grieving for Nairobi, for everyone suffering at the hands of those who do not believe in respecting differences. While this was especially close to my heart, every day, all around the world, such tragic incidents occur, demonstrating the need for an understanding of diversity, and an appreciation of the same. When I discuss these issues with others, I often use the word ‘equality’.

At the chalk art festival in Victoria, one of the children I spoke to was asking me about the CWM piece. I explained the concept of the ideas being mobilised by words, concluding with “and they can now move towards ‘equality’, and talking about it’, as I pointed to the blocks that formed the word. The child paused and stared at the Idea character on a Word boat for a bit, appearing to consider the story in front of her. She then asked, “what’s an equality?”


I stopped chalking immediately and joined her in staring at the characters I had been drawing. This question I had not anticipated. It was my turn to consider. How could I explain this word without using a zillion other complicated words, and convey its meaning to this child, who was looking expectantly at me? Without being able to Google, “how can I explain the word equality without using a zillion other complicated words and convey its meaning to this child who is looking expectantly at me”?!

I offered, after what I hope was not too long a silence, “equality means being nice to everyone even if they are different in some ways”. She responded “oh”, and nodded, processing my explanation and staring a bit longer. I talked a bit more about how different ideas are needed for the conversation on social equality.

Perhaps the essence of a word can get lost in complicated language at times. Jargon, and words frequently associated with the key word are used, but the underlying message the word seeks to convey can be obscured by a haze of complex terminology. While exploring various meanings and aspects of a word is important to avoid generalisation and oversimplification, sometimes a back-to-basics approach can work to make the message accessible to more people. The question I was asked also forced me to evaluate my own actual understanding of the word, how much more I have to learn about it, and how the world needs to get better acquainted with it.

The same goes for many, many other words. With CWM, I look forward to learning more about the words I think I know, and exchanging ideas with you 🙂

Chalk With S: Street Talk

My two days of doing artwork out on the street at the Victoria International Chalk Art Festival was an experience I expected to be interesting but slightly uncomfortable. The idea of being watched as I drew was intimidating. I thought I would much prefer completing the painting in secret, preferably by at night by torchlight, before everyone got there, so I could then disassociate myself from it if it did not appeal to them. What I had not expected was how much I would enjoy talking to visitors and being confident enough to continue working as I talked.

What I had expected:
1. Telling people about CWM: I had hoped that people would notice our t-shirts, cards, flyers (in addition to the painting itself), and ask us about the project. I am happy to report that this happened, and we were able to share our idea.
2. Hearing about artists’ experiences: Heidi and I talked to several artists about how long they had been chalking. To some, it was a new medium, but many around us do this for a living and have been chalking for many years.

What I had not expected:
1. Getting so much feedback from children:

A little one's input :)

A little one’s input 🙂

This was the biggest learning moment for me. While I chalked many younger people came up to me to ask what was going on in the picture. I had seriously underestimated the interest that our artwork would garner from a younger audience. They were very receptive to the idea, and seemed to grasp the narrative a lot quicker than many adults. Some even said ours was their favourite! What I enjoyed was how genuinely and seriously they considered the story, trying to make a connection between language use and the sharing of ideas. One little girl even contributed to the art. I asked for her input on colour choice, and she even assisted with a little bit of chalking! It was fun giving someone a space to colour in, and that has given me several new ideas about how to get more younger ones involved!

2. Chalking Skills: This is a little obvious now that I think of it, but I had not really thought I would learn much from other artists; I expected them to be busy and professional, but many shared some great tips about chalking, and on street art in general.

3. Bruised knees: again, now, very obvious. The rough, unyielding surface that was challenging to chalk on, but also tough on the knees and elbows, and well, everything. All worth it, though!

The whole experience made it even clearer to me that Heidi and I make a fantastic team. We were completely on the same page, regarding dedication to our artwork and project. The rain did not stop us from running back and start-stop chalking all day on Sunday; someone else may have thought it not worth it. What was even more significant to me was the fact that Heidi liked the parts of chalking that I liked least, and vice versa. Sharing and dividing the work between us was effortless. She was great to chalk with, and is a wonderful someone who makes an anxious someone like me comfortable enough to work without unnecessary worry, even in public. We are both very excited to plan our next chalk adventure! 🙂

Chalk With S: Colourful Cobblestones

The bright, colourful cobbled street I am enjoying putting together:


Colourful Cobblestones

Every new word and concept I learn feels like another colourful, interesting, fascinating cobblestone added to my path, supporting me as I venture somewhere unfamiliar. It feels like movement and travel, allowing me to access new  places and spaces.

How do you visualise learning? I hope it involves a lot of colour, movement, and other fun things!

CWM Questionnaire 🙂

Chalk with S: Notebook Scribbles Revisited In Chalk

Today, I thought I would try my chalk dusty hand at chalk versions of the most recurrent doodles that appeared in my notebooks throughout my school years.


Peacock and the moon


The tree I could see from my literature class


Based on our dog, Amber 🙂


The most popular – the rose

There is something about the simplicity of chalk that facilitates expression for me. I have realised this over the past couple of weeks, while using chalk to write and draw for CWM. One thing I had never considered for myself was using chalk in art. In my mind, its use had been limited to the confines of the wooden edges of a classroom blackboard. Chalk dust, chalk smudges; all of these lend a very real idea of impermanence to work done in chalk.

But, I am now finding those very challenges appealing in drawing with chalk. It is frustrating, to feel the carefully placed, for the most part, chalk lines get smudged as you reach for other areas of the drawing. There is a lot of retracing, and attention on what to emphasise, in my experience. I am now really enjoying the process, and find the constant tweaking to be an excellent way to focus on what I am doing or learning.

Chalk With S: Who Doesn’t Know The Cinema?

Do you prefer the “who knows” or the “who doesn’t know” question format, when being addressed in a group situation? Personally, I favour the former. I find it more forgiving and less accusatory than the latter. It allows those who know what the speaker is talking about to express this, without putting those who don’t know on the spot. The latter, however, happened this past Sunday when I was at a film panel discussion.


I attended the ‘Who Are We, Cinema?’ event on the weekend, presented by the UBC Alumni Association in partnership with the Vancouver Queer Film Festival 2013. I was thrilled to be back in a Film Studies-ish setting: a cinema-turned-presentation space inviting thought-provoking conversations. I could not wait to hear the very interesting panellists speak.

They organisers were excited to share the “first festival PechaKucha-powered event”. PechaKucha! Isn’t that fantastic?? Well… not having paid attention to that part of the event summary, I could not figure out why I was meant to be enthusiastic about this – I, erm, did not know what PechaKucha was.

I was hoping it would explain itself as the night went on, but the host addressed the issue.

“Who here does not know what PechaKucha is?”

The hands that rose, some confidently, most hesitantly, comforted me.
Me? I sat very still, arms crossed and stoic, suddenly panicky about getting caught for being unaware of something that might be in that dreaded category of ‘common knowledge’.  I noticed a few people around me who looked like they wanted to raise their hands, but thought better of it.

This is all I needed to know: PechaKucha is a presentation style. Twenty slides shown, twenty seconds for each. Why was that so difficult to admit?

Even if I am overthinking the effects of the “who doesn’t know” question, I feel it can suggest an exclusivity, however unintentionally. Once I had understood this term that was being tossed around, I found the whole event within my reach again. Then, I could proceed to enjoy the slides, some of them from films I have found striking and memorable (one in particular, the 1996 Canadian film, Les Feluettes).

I am interested in what you have to say about how the phrasing of questions can make you feel more or less included in similar spaces. Write to us, or comment if you have thoughts on this.

You and I can have another one-on-one chalk next week 😀
There will be loads of chalky goodness between now and then, which you can read about in our previous post. Stay tuned for all of that, including some chalk time with H!