Artists Kate Connell and Oscar Melara’s Our Work Life explored the work experience of Bay Area residents over the last century. Using research culled with collaborative assistance from the Labor Archives and Research Center, the artists looked at varied aspects of workers’ lives–how they felt about their work; how it brought them satisfaction, difficulty, challenge and joy; and how it shaped their identities. The artwork was realized as 24 panels on the interiors of five articulated (double-length buses with accordion middle sections), inviting commuters to share part of their day with other workers from other eras as they traveled to and from work. Panels incorporated images, quotes, and a descriptive narrative in English, with some bilingual passages in Spanish and Cantonese.
Kate Connell and Oscar Melara brought an unusual combination of experiences and skills to the project. Kate Connell is an installation artist and a librarian who creates collaborative multimedia installations. Since 1994 she has curated library exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Public Library, and City College of San Francisco. Oscar Melara, artist and SamTrans bus driver, is a founding member of renowned La Raza Silkscreen Center, founded in 1969 to design and print silkscreen posters on local and international political issues. After becoming a SamTrans driver, Melara began the cartoon series “Side Swipes,” which describes the trials and tribulations of his fellow bus operator’s work lives. He also creates illustrations for labor newsletters. Trade union leaders, historians, labor activists, and university administrators established the Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University in 1985 to preserve, document, and make known labor’s pivotal role in the history of Northern California.