Song of the Essential Worker

A documentary art project celebrating the working people of New York, following the hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Memory
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions

Slought and the James Gallery/Center for the Humanities, CUNY Graduate Center


NY State Council for the Arts

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

On the web


Slought and the James Gallery at the Center for the Humanities are pleased to present Song of the Essential Worker, a documentary art project celebrating the working people of New York, following the hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic, on display July 2-August 1, 2022. A public reception and event featuring artists Zoe Beloff and Eric Muzzy in conversation with Michael Paul Britto and Lowely Cheung, two workers who participated in the project, will take place on Saturday, July 2, 2022 from 4-6pm.

Song of the Essential Worker is a platform that invites workers to share their thoughts about their work, their world and their dreams for the future. The project takes on multiple forms of portraiture, including life size portraits of the workers on canvas banners, documentary films, and street posters which will be distributed across the city. A final step in the process will be a large-scale wall mural, a parade of workers at the Electrical Workers Training Center (IBEW Local #3) in New York City.

Artists Zoe Beloff and Eric Muzzy saw themselves as facilitators. Their first step was to interview each worker, beginning the conversation with the words, "we are here for you..." Subsequently, they built the interviews into short films, both serious and playful, that situated the subject in place and time with a song of their choosing that energized them. Beloff and Muzzy learned a lot in the process of interviewing an incredibly diverse group of workers, including that if it were not for the contribution of immigrant women, cities would rapidly grind to a halt. Song of the Essential Worker is also inspired by photographs of workers by Walker Evans and Alan Sekula, painted murals by Ben Shahn, and the vernacular style of fairground banners, even as the project takes these inspirations into the twenty first century. Slought hopes these images will travel far and inspire new oral histories.

The project Song of the Essential Worker responds to a public call for projects that Slought issued in July 2021. The Wounded City invited artists to reflect on what a contemporary healing procession might look like, and sought to explore how cultural organizations can support those recovering from the pandemic who seek healing and connection by providing space for rituals that perform the work of care and healing.

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Zoe Beloff is a visual artist and filmmaker. She aims to make art that entertains, educates, and provokes discussion. With a focus on social justice, she draws timelines between past and present to imagine a more egalitarian future. Zoe's work has been featured in international exhibitions and screenings; include the Whitney Museum Biennale, Site Santa Fe, the M HKA museum in Antwerp, the Akademie der Künste in Berlin and the Pompidou Center.

She particularly enjoys working in alternative venues that are free and open to the community for events and conversations. These have included The Coney Island Museum, Treize in Paris, The James Gallery at the CUNY Graduate Center, Union Docs in Brooklyn, and Slought, which presented the installation The Days of the Commune in 2013. She is a professor at Queens College CUNY.

Eric Muzzy started his young professional life peripatetically in a series of pursuits including factory worker, cabinet maker, house builder, deckhand, photographer and cameraman before settling into documentary filmmaking at Temple University. Since then, he has worked in the commercial film industry, as director of photography on independent films, and as a software programmer at a New York cancer hospital. He regularly collaborates with two New York artists, Zoe Beloff and composer and singer Shelley Hirsch. He has done theatrical lighting and multimedia visuals with Shelley. He is the cinematographer on all of Zoe's films and installations and most recently co-creator on "Song of the Worker."


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Artist Zoe Beloff and over 30 actors, activists and enthusiasts perform a street production of Bert Brecht's The Days of the Commune (1949), in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.

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