In Chicago, It’s ‘Working in America’

General / People / Places / November 7, 2016

It’s been 40 years since Studs Terkel published “Working,” his book packed full of 150 people talking about what they do all day and why they do it.

Jane Saks – whose father was Terkel’s friend – has not forgotten that book. In fact, she’s celebrating it by updating it for the 21st century. To do that, she enlisted Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, National Public Radio and an award-winning photographer.

“My work is about using art and culture to collaborate and create new models of cultural participation that have social impact,” Saks says.

She’s created a three-part, multimedia experience designed to travel the nation’s public libraries. “Working in America” tells 24 stories of as many individuals – a veteran-turned-urban-farmer, a high school principal and a professional escort, among others. Its photographs are by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynsey Addario.

“It’s museum quality but accessible to the people,” she says. “It’s not to be nailed to the floor or walls – it’s for multiple spaces.”

And it’s about issues of economics and equity – the widening wealth gap, access to quality education and the impact of globalization on people trying to make a decent living. “It’s about the social inequalities of our time,” she says.

Among the three parts is the exhibit itself – designed by Studio Gang Architects and currently on display at the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center. There’s a radio series, co-produced by Saks and Joe Richman and featured on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” this fall.

And at, members of the public can upload their own stories and photographs to an online archive called “Your Working Story.”

“It’s about participation – what you take away and what you give,” she says. “The more participation, the more alive it becomes.”

One can’t help but believe that Studs Terkel would approve whole-heartedly.

For more, go here.

Photography: Copyright Tom Harris

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Mike Welton

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