Memorials Toolkit

Made from simple resources, a grassroots memorial is a common gesture of mourning and remembrance that can carry deep meaning and resolve. Memorials are a flexible folk art form for expressing grief. This tradition accommodates change. It evolves according to human need. We feel that need strongly right now, with 500,000 people in the U.S. lost to Covid-19 related causes. 

For resources and ideas, please download the Memorials Toolkit below. We invite you to submit photos & videos of your memorials to our archive at City Lore.

Additional resources are available below. We hope you find these materials useful for your own memorial-making.

Planning your Memorial

1. Gather the names of those you wish to honor in your memorial. We encourage you to use names rather than numbers. If you are not honoring someone you know personally, please ensure that their names are already publicly available, or ask their loved ones for permission. You might write the names on a piece of art, a note card, a face mask, or one of the templates available below.

2. Decide where to set up your memorial. A window? A street corner? A tree? A park fence? A nursing home? Seek permission if needed, or be prepared to relocate your memorial if you choose not to ask for permission.

3. Design your memorial. For the most part, grassroots memorials are public in some way. They are meant to be seen and engaged. But certainly there are no rules!  See what you already have that might be useful. What is the primary material you want to use? Photos? Fabric? Flowers? Masks? Gloves? You can use what you have on hand, or borrow a few things. Covered cardboard boxes, milk crates, or old furniture (stools, small tables) work well for adding layers. On a fence, use zip ties to secure objects quickly and rain-proof tape to secure paper items such as poems, messages, photos. On the ground, a circle of electric candles with names displayed is beautiful. Repeated elements—images, lights, photos, symbols—can be effective.

For inspiration, download our Image Bank for a visual record of many kinds of memorials made over the past 20 years or so. You can also download, print, or adapt the Templates that we’ve used in the past few months.

4. Consider Weather and Authorities: Try to build in a sheltered place. Unless you are building on your own property or have permission, make a plan in advance for taking your memorial down if asked by authorities. If weather threatens, a tarp or plastic painter’s cloths usually suffice to cover unless you face a long downpour with wind. 

5. Guardianship: Take care of your memorial. Let family, friends, and neighbors know you have made your memorial and why. Host a vigil at the site to read the names of the dead or tell their stories. But BE SAFE: wear a mask at your memorial site and require others to do so as well. Maintain social distance. Please post a safety sign at your memorial.

6. Documentation: If you would, please photograph your memorial and upload a selection of up to 10 photos to the Naming the Lost Memorials Archive at City Lore. City Lore is a 35-year-old arts organization in New York City that preserves local and traditional culture. On the form, please include the name of whoever took the photograph or video so that they may be credited properly.

Other questions?