Reclaiming Labor Day and Honoring Workers, One Spray Can At A Time

AFL_LD - BBOI Web - Stencils Collage

As a vibrant punctuation mark to a summer of concepts related to the fusion of visual art to amplify workers’ voices, we were glad to bring to fruition a particular idea this Labor Day on behalf of the AFL-CIO: a mural.

Having already worked with New York-based street artist Chris Stain on art for a poster and other collateral materials for the AFL-CIO, the question was how that could be integrated with a traditional Labor Day event hosted by a State Federation or Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO to add value, punch, and diversification. The good folks of Maine embraced that challenge and we went forward.

With an established event scheduled to be held the day before Labor Day at Capitol Park in Augusta, ME, the concept was for a self-standing mural that people attending could participate in creating live, in real-time.

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Working with Chris Stain, a Maine-specific concept was developed, which we finalized in a studio in Winthrop, ME at the studio of Maine artist Peter Precourt.  We then moved it to Capitol Park, on the lawn in front of the state capital building. Many people participated under the watchful eye and caring instruction of Stain — kids and their parents, union activists, community partners. Visiting politicians, chief among them gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud, also picked up some paint and joined the fun. 

People could also do smaller engagements with art like spray-painting stencils on paper plates. The messages read things like “Raise Wages” or “Honor Work”.  The paper plates were union-made at a Chinet plant in nearby Waterville, ME making the circle complete in terms of art and work.

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The next day, mural completed, it became the focal point of another traditional celebration on Labor Day itself in Brewer, ME (see Michaud now standing proudly in front of it with his ballot mates for Congress and US Senate). Michaud’s attraction and involvement was completely spontaneous, a testament to the the power of art and culture in drawing people to workers’ issues differently. 

See a nicely embedded slide show of photographs from the two days in Maine in this AFL-CIO blog that

It was a great time. And a wonderful way of introducing these concepts to new audiences. A good fusion of art, workers, economic awareness and political education to amplify working family issues.

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A more detailed outlining of the summer-long work of utilizing visual art on behalf of the AFL-CIO can be found later in the Projects and Case Studies section or via conversation.

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