Wage/Working is a community-based art project by Tennessee Watson and Laura Hadden that uses oral history to address the issue of income inequality and the concept of wage through a time-based audio installation. 

Stories and audio from workers are gathered and edited to a length which corresponds with the amount of time it takes the worker to earn $1. Those who earn the least are given the most time to speak, drawing attention to the contrast between the workers at the both ends of the range and profiling workers across the spectrum. Once edited, these stories are used to create an album (one for each worker) that is then placed inside of a jukebox. The jukebox is hosted in public spaces throughout the community where residents are invited to interact with the jukebox, listen to the stories, and reflect on the working lives of residents as well as the impact of income inequality on their local community. 

We are deeply inspired by Studs Terkel and imagine this project in many ways to be a modern adaptation of his efforts to bring the experiences of workers in conversation with one another. The content of our project draws from the oral history tradition that Terkel popularized, while simultaneously utilizing and problematizing the data-driven journalism that is popular today. We think bringing these two modes of media production together highlights the strengths and limitations of each. While oral history provides intimate insight into the emotional and physical realities of individual experience, it often lacks a larger sense of perspective and context that is so well captured by data journalism but which, in turn, often silences the narratives of individuals. When Terkel wrote Workingin 1974, it was a radical act to put the experiences and perspectives of parking valets and business executives on the same level, but the project never directly addressed or implicated the larger economic structure that created a direct relationship between workers of all socioeconomic levels. We hope to take Terkel’s ideas even further by using data and the time-based installation platform to create a stronger sense of connection for individual narratives to both one another as well as to the larger socio-economic structure as a whole. 

A version of this project was developed in April and May of 2013 as a part of the Association for Independents in Radio’s Live Interactive Residency Program at Wave Farm in Acra, NY. In Summer 2014, fieldwork will begin to create a new version of the project featuring stories from workers in Brooklyn, NY. 

This project was developed during a Live Interactive Residency that was a collaboration of AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio and Wave Farm, including WGXC 90.7-FM. Financial support for this project is provided, in part, from AIR members worldwide and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes a great nation deserves great art.