Public Works

A city’s Public Works department is sued multiple times over racial discrimination. Very demoralizing. Very expensive. The employees are 98% ‘white’ (European-heritage). It’s the kind of problem that an employee barbecue can’t solve.

Printmaking workshops and story circles with Public Services employees.

In July 2009, Public Services employees from a variety of divisions began participating in a series of ongoing story circles – on company time – with participants from all the unions and departments in Public Works. The stories focused on actual heritage – Greek, Italian, Franco, Irish, English, Russian – thus undermining the idea of a ‘white’ identity. Participants then carved elaborate prints of their work tools, memories of their heritage from family photos, work-related memories they cared about. These created a ‘dictionary of rubber stamps’ that participants used to tell their life stories.

In these workshops, employees produced images about their jobs and personal heritages, creating a dictionary of images used to tell their stories. Final images were exhibited in the mechanics garages, recycling center, lunch room, and the accounting office.

To extend the visibility and increase awareness of work accomplished by Public Services employees, selected images were printed onto paper coffee cups with the name, job, years of service and a quote from individual employees. In partnership with local coffee vendors, a series of the printed cups were to be used throughout Portland in July 2009.

The project also produced several temporary art installations that were placed throughout the city. Each installation represented a division’s work – traffic signs, painting park benches, street light repair, sanitation – and were identified as art by the presence of a ceramic version of the printed coffee cups.