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How does the person next to you, a nanny, feel about her work? How do mailmen see their role in the community? What was work like before? Does the joy that a fruit cannery worker in the 1930s felt remind us that there are moments of deep satisfaction in our own workdays? Embarking on this project, we tried to answer questions about how our work shapes our lives and our identities.

Our Work Life sets out to tell the intimate side of the working history of the San Francisco Bay Area. This mural, embedded with quotes, is a collaboration between artists Oscar Melara and Kate Connell and the Labor Archive and Research Center at San Francisco State University. In the array of commercial images that paper over our world, we, working people, are rarely represented. This project celebrates the contributions of the people around us whose contributions we enjoy but are often “invisible.” It includes blue collar and white collar work in order to explore our common experience. We hope viewers enjoy the mural and maybe leave with increased pride in their or their family’s work. Or that the mural makes those that do invisible jobs less so, and that the skills in “unskilled” jobs are appreciated and become associated with living, breathing human beings.

Artist Oscar Melara explains his interest in initiating Our Work Life:

“As a bus operator I see people coming and going to work and see the pride and frustration, energy and fatigue, solidarity and fear, with which they respond to their working day. There is a noticeable lack of support in our culture for their work endeavors. I am one of them. I don’t see myself reflected in the media—I want and need positive reinforcement for my contribution. Creating a project that dignifies our working life helps me appreciate the reason for my efforts and gives meaning to my own work life.”