I was trained as a poet and did theater before I came into the trades. Understanding what that experience was through the arts was just something that was always part of what I did. So I had a chapbook come out when I graduated my [electrician's] apprenticeship. So that's sort of a role that I played and part of how I understood the experience for myself.
I myself can't imagine doing this kind of work. I quite like sitting in an office without risking bodily harm every day. What was it that attracted you to the trades?
Well I think some of the reasons that I first got into it were incredibly naïve. One thing is I liked the idea of working outdoors, but you know in the winter that's really not that pleasant a thing to do. So it's somewhat how it looked to me on the outside. But one thing that I really understood much better from the inside was how much intelligence and creativity and ingenuity it takes from people who are on the ground on the construction site that makes buildings go up safely and looking right. I think there are a lot mistakes in the plans of architects and engineers that are corrected on the ground. I think that's not very well understood outside the industry, but it's certainly very clear when you're working on a jobsite.
Your current exhibit is calledOn Equal Terms: Women in Construction 30 Years & Still Organizing. What inspired you to put it together?
At a certain point it became clear that there was such a discrepancy between the numbers of women in the trades and what had been expected. One had to either explain this one of two ways. Women aren't interested or capable, which was the kind of official understanding. Or you had to say there must be some obstacles here that aren't being addressed. Which to me seemed more like what made sense from the stories that tradeswomen had.
So I began to do work in 1991, interviewing women who, like myself, came in early on in affirmative action with high expectations of changes in the industry, and gathering their stories to put together another framework and that became a book called We'll Call You If We Need You:Experiences of Women Working Construction (1998). And in the process of working on the book, there were poems that came out of it, and a radio piece, and other things. And some of the material was very difficult so I decided at somebody's suggestion that I would kind of get it out of myself by doing a small installation that went to the AFL-CIO George Meany Center for Labor Studies in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was an early version of the Adams Gallery exhibit.
When I realized it was the 30th anniversary of these affirmative action guidelines coming up, I proposed it for the gallery at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis and I got a grant to work on remaking it and expanding it for what became On Equal Terms.
: Museum And Gallery
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