The Workers Pavilion

By Barrie Cline

The public art class I teach at the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies largely takes up the subject of representations of workers and their labor and how strictly bottom line driven development has affected all workers.

Through studies with and support from the SPQ program ( its focus on Corona and the community based work of groups like New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), the idea of a Workers’ Pavilion originating in Corona Plaza came into being.

Further involvement in the program has cultivated the idea into an ongoing public project that might begin to take up worker issues from their own perspectives, and showcase their creativity, but also seek to create space for dialogue. The hope is that this space–and the process of creating it– would build on  worker solidarity but also could consider larger labor contexts that the Van Arsdale Center concerns itself with, such as immigrant worker struggles.

This led to a collaboration between myself and Corona native Jaime Lopez, a union electrician, and Van Arsdale Center student in creating some of the groundwork for the Workers’ Pavilion and seeking out the involvement of NICE members. In association with fellow SPQ student Sol Aramendi and her own PROJECTLUZ, some Van Arsdale students and alumni and NICE members created a printed publication of photographic images and texts about some of their feelings about their work with a special focus on safety conditions seeing this as a good place to start to build common ground. Then with the help of the Van Arsdale Center and the SPQ program, we distributed the publication on Workers Memorial Day in Corona Plaza last April 28th.

Building on this work, Jaime, fellow Van Arsdale students and alumni as well as NICE members came together to all help design and build a low cost modular exhibition structure/light sculpture to feature the PROJECT LUZ work and recent bilingual text excerpts about immigration tradespeople created for another class taught at the Van Arsdale center, as well as images of a hunger strike NICE members have been involved in about immigration reform and deportation.

The first iteration of the Workers’ Pavilion took place at Corona Plaza on August 24th creating a nomadic illuminated structure that the workers continued to improvise throughout the day. A sense of camaraderie and spontaneous artistry was generated, particularly amongst Jamie and several NICE workers as they experimented with both functional and more abstract aspects of the structure.  Come nightfall, when Jaime lit the structure and photo light boxes, some members of the crowd that had formed cheered.

Given the excitement the project has generated,we expect to keep building on worker/artist community amongst NICE and union members and hope to grow the exhibit in terms of structure and content for future  iterations of the pavilion. Thus far, plans are in the works for a memorial project engaging new media, a solar-lit exhibit on sustainability, Bauhaus-inspired light sculptures, and dramatic works to be performed that expand on worker experience.We also look forward to a future pavilion curated by Arthur Brum in a location and duration TBA in time for next Workers Memorial Day in the spring and with the Van Arsdale Center’s collaboration seek to create both short and longer term projects in concert with and leading up to The International Labor Organization’s (ILO) centennial in 2019.