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, where anyone at the exhibit or across the country can contribute their own stories, chronicling what work and working means to them.
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). To further engage Studs’ living legacy as part of the initiative, Project& and Radio Diaries have co-produced a 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.
The Working in America initiative is dedicated in honor of Studs Terkel (1912–2008) and Alan Saks (1927–2005): two fierce humanists who believed there were no average people.
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. 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.
The following collection of essays reflect upon everyday challenges workers face in the United States, and visions of a future defined by a healthy, sustainable workforce—one with access to steady full-time work and a living wage. A future where the labor of women, immigrants, young people, union members, the working poor, and the disabled are essential and visible; a future where all of us are able to earn a wage with dignity, humanity, fulfillment and happiness.
Click on an individual's photo below to read their essay,
or click here to view all Work in Context essays.
Click on an individual's photo to read their bio, or click here to view all Lead Creative Team bios.
As a central part of the initiative, Project& and Radio Diaries will co-produce a compelling audio series related to Working in America for National Public Radio. Granted exclusive and unprecedented access to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel’s 1974 interviews, Project& and Radio Diaries has profiled people originally featured in Terkel’s book who are still living. The series revisits these individuals and joins them as they hear their interview and reflect upon the previous four decades living and working. The series will also include contemporary interviews with individuals across the country and other original stories from the book field recordings. This radio series began with the pilot “Working: Then and Now,” which aired Labor Day 2014 to tremendous response.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Sonny Garg Board Chair
Gigi Pritzker Pucker Vice Chair
D’Rita Robinson Vice Chair
Dana Arnett Secretary
Barbara Goodman Manilow
Jane M. Saks Founding President and Artistic Director
GLOBAL ADVISORY BOARD
Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts Fellow
Michelle T. Boone
Chief Program and Civic Engagement, Officer of Navy Pier, Inc.
Cheryl Lynn Bruce
Award-winning film and theater actor
Internationally renowned artist
Hon. Stephen Lewis
Co-founder, AIDS Free World, Canada
Kerry James Marshall
MacArthur Fellow and award-winning artist
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), Uganda
MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright
Justice Albie Sachs
Constitutional Court, South Africa
WORKING IN AMERICA TEAM
Jane M. Saks President & Artistic Director, Project&
Phil Henke Assistant to the President
Meredith Mosbacher Pruyn Production Manager
Luke Galambos Galambos + Associates, Lead Branding & Design
Kiersten Regelin Corporate Relations
Selena Cotte Project& Arts, Social Change and Engagement Intern
Sarah Saks-Fithian Project& Arts, Social Change and Engagement Intern
Dana and Stephanie Arnett
Meredith Bluhm-Wolf & Bill Wolf
Abigail E. Disney & Pierre N. Hauser
Frances and Elliot Lehman
Sunny and Paul Fischer
Sonny and Julia Garg
Priscilla and Steve Kersten
Barbara Goodman Manilow
Martha & Richard Melman
Gigi Pritzker Pucker and Michael Pucker
Margot & Thomas Pritzker, Pritzker Family Foundation
Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation
The Reva and David Logan Foundation
Laura M. Ricketts and Brooke Skinner Ricketts
Esther S. Saks
Ryan Abbe - Stacey Abrams - Camille Addario - Lauren Addario - Kemi Adeyemi - Jean Albright - Elizabeth Alexander - J. Bob Alotta - Sharon Alpert - Jessica Andersen - Francisco Aragon - Tracy Baim - Jordan Baines - Brooks Bankord - Brian Bannon - Lois Baum - Abaki Beck - Sally Beck - Marjorie and Charles Benton - Elizabeth Mendez Berry - Marcus Berry - Karen Bess - John Bouman - Maggie Bowman - Margaret Brennan - Jennie Brier - Marca Bristo - Jonny Bronstein - Cheryl Lynn Bruce - Tania Bruguera - Roland Bullock - Claire Cahan - Ben Calhoun - Robert Cano - Marlies Carruth - Claire Chase - Rohit Chopra - Michelle Coffey - Nancy Custer - Flinn Dallis - Kimberly Daul - Jay Davies - Craig Davis - Monica Davis - Jon Day - Jeremy Dunn - Barbara Dyer - Shawn Escoffery - Kendall Farley - Candace Feit - Harvey Fields - Paul Fischer - Lisa Fitzpatrick - Michelle Frisque - Luke Galambos - Tony Gerber - Deborah George - Nellie Gilles - Alexis Goldstein - Julie Goldsticker - Reid Gomez - Tyler Greene Jeff Grzywa - Mark Guarino - Peter Handler - James Haney, Jr. - Julia Harris - Tom Harris - Jim Hodges - Elizabeth M. Holland - Ed Hopkins - Sara Horowitz - Dave Horwich - Andy Horwitz - Ben Horwitz - Randy Horwitz - Nate Hurst - Kathy Im - Deone Jackman - Julie Jernberg - Gary T. Johnson Sue Jaye Johnson - Candice Jones - Bob Kafka - Marilyn Katz - Kirsten Kelly - Kareem Khubchandani - Bakari Kitwana - Alex Kotlowitz - Mary Beth Kraft - Sarah Kramer - Elizabeth Krasner - Rosalyn LaPier - Zofia Latka - Margaret Lebron - Amy Lehman - Francis and Elliot Lehman Nancy Lerner - Sydney Lewis - Jennifer Lizak - Lola Loaning - Elana Lopez - Deputy Secretary Chris Lu - Rene Luna - Keisha McClellan - Lesley McNorton - Tony Macaluso - Anne de Mare - Kerry James Marshall - Linsey Martin - Darcy McKinnon - Tracie McMillan - Lydia Meyer - Cindy Moelis - Patrick Molloy - Aisha Moodie-Mills - Margaret Morton - Colleen Mastony - Justine Nagan - Lynn Nottage - Alison Omens - Michael Orlove - Elizabeth Osterberg - Lauren Pabst - Jane Palmer - Hilary Pennington - Carlos Perez de Aleja - Secretary Thomas Perez - Michael Peters - Jolene Pinder - Lydia Polgreen - Ai-jen Poo - Jessy Pucker - Ahmer Qadeer - Gordon Quinn - Grace Radkins - Kavita Ramdas - Sammy Rangel - Kiersten Regelin - Joe Richman - Renault Robinson - Steve Robinson - Armando Robles - Angelica Ross - Clayton Ruby - Emma Ruby-Sachs - Harriet Sachs - Kate Ruby-Sachs - Andrea Sáenz - Beth Saks and Scott Fithian - Naomi Saks and John Parker - Ruth Saks - Sam Saks-Fithian - Sarah Saks-Fithian - Shelby Saville - Allison Schein - Tracy Schmidt - Brian Scott - Ben Shapiro - Susan Sher - Liz Skilbeck - Schuyler Smith - Socially Authentic - Elizabeth Stanton - Lauren Steel - Caesar Stovall - Tim Struby - Neera Tanden - Tina Tchen - Jessica Thunberg - Ryan Tinsley - Angela Tucker - Roberta Uno - Sudhir Venkatesh - Penny Vicini - Patricia Walker - Laura H. Washington - Bernice Weissbourd - Mason Wilkes - Angelique Williams Powers - William Yellow Robe - Allison Zellman