Art At The Action Forum: Working In America And The Great Re-Set

“The future of everything is happening now,” and work – all work – is at the center. It is the thread that runs through us all and the social systems and contracts that we create, live by and guide us.
What does a retired oil field worker in North Dakota have in common with a professional escort in Florida or a tough as nails Olympic boxer in Flint, Michigan? What connects a gun violence activist and mother in Atlanta, to a gig economy worker and musician in the Bay Area, to an artist living with disabilities in Chicago, or connects a former drug dealer and current facilities director in New York, and a domestic worker in California, and a young policewoman in Camden, New Jersey and an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley? All told, their raw and authentic stories paint a profoundly rich portrait of what work looks, means, and feels like during this time of the “Great Re-Set”.

Project&’s Working in America is inspired by, celebrates, and brings forward the tradition and humanity of Studs Terkel from his influential book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do (1974). By focusing on stories that include the breadth of our society, we add oxygen and audiences to voices often left out and less visible. Their expression creates a more textured truth, a more challenging truth, a more satisfying and evolving and beautifully fearless truth. Through these narratives of others as well as our own stories, we learn that work is the thread that runs through us all, universal, yet particular and deeply personal.  As Terkel so beautifully reminded us about work: “It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

We hope Working in America will be part of supporting a society with ever increasing equitable participation at its core—a society where everyone can make a life and a living with human dignity. 

After opening in September 2016 at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library for a ten-month installation, Working in America inaugurates its national tour at the Pitkin County Public Library from June 2017- September 2017 in collaboration with the Aspen Institute and the Resnick Aspen Action Forum.

Please join us at 4:30pm Thursday, July 27 at Pitkin County Library 120 N Mill Street, Aspen CO. for a welcome reception and discussion of Working in America

A guest blog post from Jane M Saks, Project& President and Artistic Director. 

We live in a time of great innovation as well as deep dissatisfaction, endless possibilities and creativity, diminishing resources and new fantastic discoveries. This is a moment of greater diversity in public life and discourse—the most we have ever experienced, perhaps. And a heightened awareness of systemic racism and violence by the general public and greater visibility of gender issues. There is unprecedented inequality, struggling post-industrial cities, under employment, unemployment and weak public systems. At the core of these tensions is work, labor, and the American worker and workforce. 

The centerpiece of the Working in America initiative is a nationally traveling photography exhibition focused on the stories of veterans, a tech worker, farmer, entrepreneur, domestic worker, athlete, artist, educator, police officer and more. The images were taken by Project& Fellow and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Lynsey Addario. The exhibit, designed in collaboration with award-winning architect Jeanne Gang and Studio Gang, profiles 24 people from 17 states ranging in ages from 21 to 87. The Working in America initiative, created and conceived by Jane M. Saks and Project&, includes the online living community, “Your Working Story,” at, where anyone at the exhibit or across the country can contribute their own stories, chronicling what work and working means to them. To further engage Studs’ living legacy as part of the initiative, Project& and Radio Diaries have co-produced a radio series, “Working: Then and Now,” including never-before-heard field recordings Terkel conducted for the book as well as new interviews, airing on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition and local stations across the country. 

The role & impact of art & culture on the democratic promise 

Art can imagine a democracy built on the promise of equitable participation—working to deliver on that promise, through risk, human experience, creative experimentation, expression and engagement. This promise of democracy is central to Studs Terkel’s brilliance and his humanity in his life’s work and his extraordinary book, “Working,” as well as being central to the inspiration for Working in America. By focusing on stories that include the breadth of our society, we add oxygen and audiences to voices often left out and less visible. Their expression creates a more textured truth, a more challenging truth, a more satisfying and evolving and beautifully fearless truth.

In this initiative, the landscape of work in America includes great innovation and passion, successful and inspired workers, and over employment and under payment, under employment and no work at all. The relationship to work is personal, public, and porous. It changes throughout life and generations and yet, remains present and constant. Sometimes our work helps us learn our authentic worth in profound ways and sometimes it undervalues us so much that we lose the possibility of full membership in society. Sometimes we are paid for what we consider our work and sometimes not. Sometimes our work can be elusive, and fail us, and sometimes it is the pull toward aspirations, dreams, and the previously unimagined possibilities of our lives and futures.

Working in America is a multi-platform model and creative tool that hopes to support a more nuanced participatory national conversation about work. We are grateful to the people profiled in the initiative and thank them for allowing us to accompany them as they navigated the beauty and challenges of their work and lives.

Now is a critical moment when many are tackling the central issue of work and equity—not merely economic equity but social equity. We know that equity must exist on a social, cultural, personal, political, and economic level to support a just and vibrant society with the greatest potential for each individual. With Working in America, Project& believes when individuals talk about how they feel about their work, they reflect upon how they locate themselves in the greater society.

Issues of work and economic equity anchor the major conflicts of our times and our future: be they the widening wealth gap, access to education and training, the housing collapse, or the impact of the global economy, and access to education and training for the present and future of work on people’s abilities to patch together jobs in order to earn a living. 

Together, these stories of working put a human face on statistics and sensational headlines and allow us to explore the trials and tribulations we face regarding work, and to also understand what makes work the rewarding tie that binds us all together.

— Jane M Saks, Project& President and Artistic Director
Posted by Philip Javellana on Jun 21, 2017 6:56 AM America/Denver