Work shapes our lives. When we meet strangers, our first question is "what do you do?" We are not asking about their non-work activities as much as we want to understand one of the most important ways of defining ourselves and others: what we and they do as "work."

Both on and off the job, we explore the effect work has on us and how we affect our work. We talk, complain, celebrate and struggle. Our relationship with work is not only economic and social, it is cultural as well. Our personal and communal relations to work take many cultural and artistic forms expressed through poetry and narrative, music, sculpture and painting, humor and drama, craft, and representation. Through expressive culture, we integrate our occupation and personal life. The Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives Program is a cooperative project that focuses on the cultural traditions of workers, workplaces as contexts for the expression of workers culture, and the diversity of historical and artistic presentations of workers' lives.

For nearly two decades since it was founded by its inaugural co-directors John P. Beck of the MSU School of Human Resources and Labor Relations and Yvonne Lockwood of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MSU Museum), "Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives" has explored and presented the richness and diversity of worker experience and workers culture through a wide spectrum of avenues and activities. In its sixteenth year, the Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives brown bag lecture series has featured nearly one hundred and fifty presentations in which MSU faculty and off-campus presenters focus on the diversity of worker experience and worker culture across the boundaries of occupation, gender, ethnicity, age, region, nation, and time. Other program presentations have included poetry and fiction readings, film openings and concerts. One of the most visible of these activities has been a range of campus and community exhibitions. Some of the exhibitions have included: the paintings of worker/artist Ralph Fasanella; the art of African American artist and former rail worker Mark Priest; the memorial quilt honoring federal workers killed in the Oklahoma City bombing; photographic exhibitions by David Bacon, Leslie Bartlett and Martin Desht; the art of mid-Michigan autoworkers; and Workers Culture in Two Nations: South Africa and the United States (originally a campus exhibit in 2007, it is currently a traveling exhibit at the Red Location Museum in Port Elizabeth, South Africa). With the recent retirement of Dr. Lockwood, the Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives Program is co-directed now by Beck and C. Kurt Dewhurst of the MSU Museum.

Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives Program has been described as a program designed to transform the perceptions and understanding of the greater institution and our student community by establishing a forum for understanding diversity of people in our daily lives. It celebrates diversity through an understanding of the richness and value diversity adds to our daily lives. This program has demonstrated an organizational culture that not only respects diversity and pluralism, but also one that establishes diversity and pluralism. The program was recognized in 2003 with a Michigan State University Diversity team award for "Sustained Effort Toward Excellence in Diversity."

The Michigan State University Museum's Traditional Arts Program has developed the Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives Collection that features traditional artistic expressions related to the work experience. Attention is given to worker artists who share their personal folk cultural insights through their art and as a way to understand the nature of work. In addition, the collection includes examples of everyday expressions made by workers from the materials from work settings as well as those items made as "government work" or "homers" crafted while at work. The Our Daily Work/Our Daily Lives Collection is both a research collection and a valuable educational resource. The MSU Museum Traditional Arts Program's Our Daily Work and Daily Lives Collection also includes oral histories, photographic holdings, documentary accounts of worker artists, occupational cultural resources, and work related sound recordings of music and song. The museum presents worker artists and occupational culture at the annual Great Lakes Folk Festival held each August in downtown East Lansing, a partnership project of Michigan State University and the City of East Lansing, produced by the MSU Museum.

For more information on the program contact: John P. Beck, Associate Professor, MSU School of Human Resources and Labor Relations at or C. Kurt Dewhurst, PhD, Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage and Professor of English, Michigan State University Museum; and Director, Arts and Cultural Initiatives and Senior Fellow, University Outreach & Engagement, MSU at

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School of Human Resources & Labor Relations
South Kedzie Hall
368 Farm Lane, Room S403
East Lansing, Michigan, USA 48824
Phone: (517) 355-1801 | Fax: (517) 355-7656