Women Can Build

A new public art exhibition shares the stories of women in the building trades

Art City Terrain East
Pictured here: Elisangela Oliveira, a bridge painter for NYC DOT. (Courtesy NYC DOT)
Pictured here: Elisangela Oliveira, a bridge painter for NYC DOT. (Courtesy NYC DOT)

In two public plazas this month, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) is using art to showcase the women who weld steel, wire trains, and paint bridges, all in honor of Women’s History Month.

The agency partnered with Jobs to Move America to present Women Can Build, a narrative exhibition at two DOT plazas in Manhattan’s Financial District. Featuring Deanne Fitzmaurice‘s photography, the series portrays 16 “Modern Rosies,” women who supervise electric work, clean up worksites, and manufacture the rail cars that move the city. While highlighting progress and opportunity, the sunny side of work, the photos and accompanying text from the subjects call attention to the gender discrimination that prevents women, particularly women of color, from achieving equity in the workplace. For historical continuity, the exhibition, organized by the NYC DOT Art program, includes vintage images of WWII-era women factory workers borrowed from the Library of Congress.

(Courtesy NYC DOT)

(Courtesy NYC DOT)

To address gender equity and meet the construction and building trades industries’ demand for skilled workers, Women Can Build calls on companies to provide opportunities for women via partnerships with labor unions and community organizations devoted to workforce development.

Jobs to Move America, a national organization devoted to fiscally responsible transit development, started the project in 2015. “It is more important than ever for us to ensure women have good jobs and supportive work environments,” said Madeline Janis, the organization’s executive director, in a DOT press release.  “Our aim with this show is to influence global manufacturers to hire, train and retain more women in their factories.”

“DOT Art’s Art Display Case and the Jobs to Move America program together provide ideal ‘canvases’ to showcase the critical work that women in transportation do,” added NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “From Emily Roebling’s management of the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge to here at DOT, where three successive women Commissioners have led the agency since 1999, New York’s women have played a significant role in advancing our transportation. I am excited that New Yorkers will learn even more about the invaluable contribution women make to transportation—in a fun, engaging and compelling way.”

Women Can Build is on view through May 15 at the DOT’s art display cases in Manhattan at Water Street and Gouverneur Lane and at the corner of Water Street and Pearl Street.

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