The I&D industry has a long history deeply rooted in America, with ties to the union labor movements across the U.S. However, I&D workers and their jobs are basically unknown to the public at large. They are not seen at the events they help create, and once the event is done, the workers disappear as quickly as the tradeshow.
Tradeshows are by nature hard to track. How do you track the conversations that happen in the booth? But the conversations live as memories, and exhibiting companies can usually identify customers gained from tradeshows. But there’s nothing to show for the worker who installed the exhibit. Their work is dismantled as quickly as it was installed, and their paper trails of work orders are archived and quickly forgotten.
Joe Toback, president of Local 510, is a world traveler and likens the transient nature of a tradeshow work to the Tibetan artistic tradition of dul-tson-kyil-khor, or “mandala of colored powders,” in which millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks, only to be destroyed soon after completion. This form of spiritual practice teaches Buddhist monks to accept the impermanence of life.
A traditional builder can walk through a city and point to the buildings he helped create, but a tradeshow laborer destroys the work he helps create. There are no college professors writing textbooks on tradeshow installation labor, and the industry tends to rely on face-to-face interactions and relationships rather than digital or print marketing. With almost nothing to show for their hard work, the history of tradeshow laborers is almost entirely oral.
As I dive deeper into the dynamics that drive this important segment of the tradeshow industry, I am fascinated by its complexity, as well as the passion of the people. Not only is our goal for the series to illuminate the tradeshow installation work, but also to bring a fresh perspective from someone new to the industry. I hope you are as intrigued as I am.
– Lesley Martin