The Work Office (TWO)

Katarina Jerinic , Naomi Miller

Artists Katarina Jerinic and Naomi Miller, and Times Square Arts, the public art program of the Times Square Alliance, were pleased to announce The Work Office (TWO) were open the week of October 2–8, 2011, with a full schedule of work assignments that were performed and on view in the northern section of Times Square.

TWO’s employees were: Rachel Buchanan & Karen McIntyre, Michelle Cheikin, Carla Della Beffa, Jessie Feller & Anna Brown Massey, Veronica Dougherty, Guillaume Légaré, Betsy Medvedovsky, Lori Nelson, Karen Schoellkopf, and Nina Wengel. All work assignments were presented and celebrated during a Payday Party on Thursday, October 6th from 6–9 pm; additional presentations were scheduled throughout the week. At the Payday Party, a paycheck were distributed to each employee for $23.50, once the weekly wage for an artist in the Federal One Project, the arts division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression. The event was free and open to the public.

Selected from an international pool of applicants, the artists were hired for one week—October 2–8—to complete their response to a TWO assignment. The artist/employees’ assignments, such as documenting a need for repairs, making a regional travel guide for a block or neighborhood, reinterpreting a newspaper photograph, or giving a concert for a houseplant, were performed and on view throughout the workweek on Broadway Plaza between 46th and 47th Streets and on Duffy Square in Times Square. In addition to the Payday Party, artist/employees were present during the “Office Hours” event on Saturday, October 8th from 12–4 pm. All assignments are on the TWO website.

The Work Office (TWO) was a collaborative, multidisciplinary art project disguised as an employment agency. Informed by the WPA of the Great Depression in the 1930s, TWO was a gesture to “make work” for visual and performing artists, writers, and others by giving them simple, idea-based assignments that explore, document, and improve daily life in New York. TWO's administrators—Jerinic and Miller—managed all aspects of the project, including oversight of the office and website. As the project’s lead artists, they performed the dull bureaucratic work that ensures that their employees make artwork.

TWO is based on the idea of “making work” (WPA terminology) for artists to “make work” (artist terminology). The project was born of an appreciation for the WPA and recurring comparisons in the news media between that era and today. With the economic recession in mind, TWO revisits the approach the 1930s federal government took to alleviate the effects of the Depression on daily life. Artists were employed to make art— alongside infrastructure and other projects to rebuild the country—and were seen as a valuable labor force. Despite recent wistful references to the WPA, it seems implausible in contemporary US culture that artists would be remunerated for their work in this way. TWO was a wry, contemporary realization of this model.

The TWO process required artists to apply, interview, sign contracts, and work a full week to complete their assignment. Payday Parties were the culmination of the workweek, where employees were paid for their labor and the public was invited to view and interact with the works and learn about the project. Payday Parties were inspired by the socializing that occurred between artists as they waited in line to collect their wages at their local WPA office. They also provided a forum for TWO artists and the general public to interact and exchange ideas.