Art that opens conversation...



Women in Construction and Skilled Trades

A Mixed-Media Installation by Susan Eisenberg

ON EQUAL TERMS is a site-specific, mixed-media installation that brings viewers into the experiences of women who work in construction and skilled trades. The touring installation includes audio, poetry, personal witness, artifacts, found objects, photographs, and 3-D mixed media — including Stella, a life-sized figure on a ladder in a diamond hardhat.

The 2008 launch at Brandeis University’s Kniznick Gallery coincided with the 30th anniversary of federal government policies that opened construction jobs and apprenticeship programs to women. Had those policies been enforced beyond the initial years, today’s construction workforce would likely be 25% female. Instead, women hold roughly 2.5% of building trades jobs. Questions raised by that discrepancy –– between policy expectation and policy outcome –– inspired the installation to ask what it means, to treat people, in any occupation, on equal terms.

Full Exhibitions: Adams Gallery, Suffolk University, Boston, MA; Main Gallery, Smithsonian-affiliated Michigan State University Museum, East Lansing, MI. The NYC exhibition at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center September 29 - November 1, 1013, coincides with the 35th anniversary of federal affirmative action policies.

On Equal Terms Shortform is a more portable version of selected elements, versatile for small venues or short exhibitions. Exhibitions: Women Build the Nation Conference (Sacramento, CA), Women in Non-Traditional Careers Conference (Peosta, IA), Washington Women in Trades Career Fair (Seattle, WA), the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN), IBEW District 6 Progress Meeting (Green Bay, WI), Curry College (Milton, MA).

Artist Statement

I entered the construction industry in 1978, with training in poetry and theater. From the start, the arts helped me to shape and articulate what I experienced. In turn, my own impressions were shifted by responses from others who worked in the trades, who let me know what resonated for them, as well as what they found missing, or out of balance.

The stories on banners and audio are from my interviews for We’ll Call You If We Need You. Stella, the lifesize figure on the ladder in the diamond hardhat, wears the Carhartt coveralls I wore through Boston winters. The tags on her have been filled out by tradeswomen. The faces that combine for her mask come largely from Tradeswomen Magazine, a journal that for 20 years linked a national movement of tradeswomen, many of whom were extremely isolated. I hope that Stella –– and the exhibit as a whole –– conveys the contradictions of being both armored and vulnerable, welcomed and assaulted, alone and in community. At the other end of the cable that Stella’s pulling in, she has a partner.


The On Equal Terms Project uses personal testimony and the arts as springboards for education, discussion, analysis, and action about employment equity. The Project organizes touring for the On Equal Terms installation, conducts research, consults on equity issues, leads workshops, and develops local and national programming. The On Equal Terms project developed the Move the Decimal Point campaign and blog.

Susan Eisenberg, Director / On Equal Terms Project

Women’s Studies Research Center / Brandeis University

Mailstop 079 – Epstein Building

515 South St.

Waltham, MA 02454-9110

On Equal Terms has received funding from Mass Humanities and the Berger-Marks Foundation.


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On Equal Terms



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