As told to Fortunately. Photos by Fei Liu.

Photographs of the "Our Good Bones Launch" event. Photographer: Fei Liu. October 15, 2023.
Fei Liu 刘斐 is a New York-based Chinese designer, artist, and educator. Her art and research explore embodiment and telepresence, robotics, performance, civic engagement, and systems of care. As of 2022, she has paid off $60,000 of student debt from her undergraduate and master’s programs. From 2017-2021, she has been responsible for her father’s car payments. She has no car herself nor real estate in her name. 

Our Good Bones is a game of dominoes reimagined as a collective effort to create a community bank. 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 This project transforms these pips into receptacles for collecting loose change that can be freely “deposited” and “withdrawn” by community members.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. The game builds upon my work exploring the intersections between social practice, financial redistribution, and mutual aid.

Our Good Bones is inspired by models of communal reciprocity, such as the “take a penny, leave a penny” model, where patrons of convenience stores or gas stations can leave their unwanted change for the next shopper. The project is also influenced 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.

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,1” 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 Mutua2, Sure We Can’s recycling center3, and the Bushwick Free Store.4

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.  
  1. Department of Sanitation, "Bottle Bill: Returnable Container Law,"
    NYC 311, accessed November 21, 2023.
  2. Bushwick Ayuda Mutua, "About BAM."
  3. Sure We Can, "Context & History.
  4. Bushwick Free Store, Facebook page.

Our Good Bones Launch Poster. Design and illustrations by Tzu Yun Wei. 2023.

Rules for Our Good Bones

  1. Draw seven tiles for four players and six tiles for two or three players.  
  2. If you draw a double-six tile, you may place it down first.
  3. The goal is to place all your tiles across the line of play by matching the ends on the tiles.
  4. You win when you get rid of all your tiles.
  5. The dominos at the ends of the game board are considered the “winning dominoes.” You can take the coins in your “winning dominoes,” which are at the ends of the board. You are allowed to take up to $10 OR you can donate the amount to a local charity. If you choose to donate winnings, the amount will be doubled. (Example: if you win $10 and want to donate it, you will actually be donating $20.)
  6. A game facilitator will be present and can answer questions.
This article is featured in Issue 0.