In honor of May Day, the globally recognized International Workers’ Day, today we are highlighting the 2013 Northwest Folklife Festival’s Cultural Focus, or theme.

This year, Northwest Folklife is celebrating work. Washington Works is a multimedia program that features panel discussions, special presentations, demonstrations, film screenings, storytelling, sing-a-longs and more, all on the topic of working. The program is part of a year-long project that explores labor culture and history in the Northwest.

“Washington Works” is also the culminating event of MayWorks, an annual month-long celebration of workers’ culture and history first organized in 2012 by Washington’s labor movement. A full listing of MayWorks activities in the weeks leading up to the Festival can be found at http://www.facebook.com/mayworkswa.

For many of us, our work not only pays the bills, it gives meaning to our lives. Washington Works explores the ways people in our state make a living, with a special emphasis on union jobs.  This region has a long history of labor organizing, and Washington has one of the largest union workforces in the country.

Festivalgoers will have the opportunity to learn more about other people’s jobs through panels and presentations on the Narrative Stage at SIFF Cinema (sponsored by KUOW 94.9FM), at art exhibits in the Lopez Room, during demonstrations and storytelling sessions in the Olympic Room, and in the discussions and exchanges taking place throughout the weekend.

Josie Dunn and friend — two of Washington’s “Rosie the Riveters.” Photo courtesy of Washington Women in Trades.

Highlights of the schedule include a presentation by Seattle Public Librarians that features their favorite fiction and nonfiction works about labor on Friday, May 24 at 2pm; a bed-making contest with members of Unite Here 8 first showing us the way it’s done in the hotel industry on Saturday, May 26, at 2pm; a panel on Sunday, May 26 at 2pm, made up of some of Washington’s “Rosie the Riveters,” women who who stepped up to work traditionally male jobs such as shipbuilding during WWII; stories told by IBEW 77’s linemen about working in winter storms to get the electricity back on on Sunday, May 26 at 3:30 pm; an exhibit of the work of New Deal printmaker Richard V. Correll on display in the Lopez Room all weekend; and even stories from two local ministers and a rabbi about the “work” of being  a clergyman or woman on Monday, May 27 at 2:00 pm.

More details and a schedule of “Washington Works” programming can be found at http://www.nwfolklife.org/festival/cultural-focus/2013-cultural-focus-washington-works/.

Folklife will continue the Washington Works program after the Festival concludes by collecting oral histories from union workers across the state and producing a series of video documentaries series about the project with filmmaker Doug Plummer.

Northwest Folklife is working with the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington, and other labor history groups to present a variety of programs as part of “Washington Works.”

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