About Us

LaborArts presents powerful images to further understanding of the past and present lives of working people. Our events and contests expand on this effort. The site includes curated Exhibits on particular subjects; the Collection, where one can search images from exhibits and other sources; and Events, a place for updates on talks in the “Art and Activism” series, the “Making Work Visible” writing contest for CUNY students, and the Clara Lemlich Awards (held every spring).

The range of images included in Labor Arts is broad:

    • photographs, posters, buttons, banners and flyers – images of artifacts that may not have been created as art but have artistic value
    • paintings, sculpture and other fine art that is about work and workers
    • art and artifacts that have been generated by working people

We gather, identify and display images of these cultural artifacts in order to encourage more people in this country and around the world to appreciate the history of work and working people. The labor movement is a critical part of the story – although not the whole story.

Labor in Crisis; Memory, Art and Race, 1911- 1929, for instance, looks at images from the NAACP’s Crisis magazine at a time when it was a clarion voice against racism. The ILGWU: Social Unionism in Action outlines how the union expanded the definition of organizing, as it took a leadership role on immigration, civil rights and health care issues. The last section of this exhibit is about culture, and it includes examples of quilts, museum art classes, and songs – a small sample of the cultural texture of the labor movement.

The exhibits each focus on a specific subject or theme; a full list can be found here. An alternative way to find images on this site browse or search the collection – which contains most of the images from the exhibits as well as a wealth of additional items. A small sample:

CORE Freedom Now Pin

Please support LaborArts, an independent non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2000 as a joint project of The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, The Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives/ Tamiment Library at New York University, and Bread and Roses, the cultural project of health care workers union 1199/SEIU. The Rubin Foundation supports innovative efforts to transform society’s institutions, thereby making them more responsible. The Foundation’s interests include the study of the relationship between art, culture and humanity. The Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives was created in 1977 by the Tamiment Institute and the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO to document, preserve and disseminate the history of New York City’s working people and their organizations. It is a part of the Tamiment Library at NYU, a research collection documenting the history of radical politics.

Please visit the Copyright page for information about permissions and copyright.

We dedicate the site to Debra E. Bernhardt (1953-2001) who always reminded us of Joe Hill’s refrain: Don’t Mourn, Organize. See “Making History Personal,” an exhibit about Bernhardt’s work.

Joe Hill pin