32BJ probably isn’t a gallery that you’ve ever heard of. It sounds like it could fit right in to a neighborhood like Williamsburg or SOHO; its cryptic name is alluring and promises cutting edge art sure to please those seeking rebellious works from underground artists.
Except that it isn’t an art gallery at all. Rather, 32BJ is the largest property services workers union in the United States, made up of, and advocating for, workers in fields like maintenance, cleaning, and food service, among many others. So what does 32BJ, a property service workers union have to do with art, let alone an art show? According to a recent article in the New York Times, “For the last eight years, 32BJ has invited its members, who spend their days working as doormen, porters, janitors and window washers, to submit their artwork for a month long art show,” at the organization’s New York headquarters.
Over those eight years, the art show has reportedly grown tremendously, with more paintings, photography, poems, sculptures, and other art mediums filling the halls of 32BJ’s New York space this year than ever before. This year, the New York Times reports, “the show has about 200 pieces, spanning two floors of conference rooms, offices, and a dental clinic at the union’s West 18th Street headquarters,” which is indicative of the huge number of passionate, artistic members of 32BJ. The property service workers union represents over 120,000 members, and it seeks to “raise standards at work and improve conditions in its communities so that one day ‘working poor’ will be a contradiction in terms,” according to its mission statement. Clearly, the organization has gone above and beyond helping its members in the workplace by encouraging them to literally showcase their passions at the union headquarters.
Some of the artists in the union have received formal training, while others paint, or sculpt, or draw as a means to feel fulfilled after a day hard at work. Many of 32BJ’s members regard their paying jobs as a means to cover their living expenses, but it’s creating art that makes them truly happy.
For more information about 32BJ, visit the union’s official website.