Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) was founded in 2008 in New York City by a group of visual and performing artists and independent curators. Since then, our work has developed in service of a single achievable goal — regulating the payment of artist fees in the nonprofit sector — but we emerge from a long tradition of artists organizing around the issue of remuneration for cultural work in the United States that dates back to the 1930s .

We see the contemporary fight for non-wage compensation as part of a wider struggle by all gig workers who supply content without payment standards or an effective means to organize. In the context of contemporary art, where the unpaid labor of artists supports a more than $60 billion industry, W.A.G.E.’s mission is to establish sustainable economic relationships between artists and the institutions that contract our labor, and to introduce mechanisms for self-regulation into the art field that collectively bring about a more equitable distribution of its economy. 

Self-regulation is central to our approach because artist compensation has never been mandated at the city, state, or federal levels by government agencies or by the private foundations that provide financial support to nonprofits through the grant making process. In this context, and in the face of accelerated privatization, deregulation and defunding, we have concluded that the task of regulating the field has been left to us. To that end, W.A.G.E. operates two connected programs, W.A.G.E. Certification for institutions, and WAGENCY for artists and art workers. 

W.A.G.E. Certification

Launched in 2014, W.A.G.E. Certification publicly recognizes  those nonprofits demonstrating a history of, and commitment to, voluntarily paying artist fees that meet W.A.G.E. standards. It is the first model of its kind as well as the first in the U.S. to establish national compensation standards and a clear set of guidelines for the conditions under which artistic labor is contracted. To date, 130 institutions have been certified across the U.S. and more than $18 million has been paid out to artists through the program’s administration.


WAGENCY was launched in 2018 to provide artists with a transactional platform through which to request and negotiate W.A.G.E. fees with non-certified institutions. Conceived as a tool for self-organization, WAGENCY is an invitation to artists across the U.S. and beyond to join W.A.G.E. and participate in the work of pressuring institutions to meet W.A.G.E. standards. By collectivizing the leverage of its membership , WAGENCY also functions as a solidarity union, prefiguring the wave of unionization that began to sweep the field in 2020. 

While there are now dozens of unionized workplaces in the sector, non-unionized freelance art workers continue to lack adequate representation and an effective means to organize. Because it is very often artists themselves who constitute this precarious labor force, working temporary gigs as artist assistants, art handlers, teaching artists, administrators and others to support themselves, we believe that W.A.G.E. has a role to play in empowering them in these positions and by turn, building solidarity between artists and art workers across the supply chain.

Stay tuned for the integration into WAGENCY of contracts  and other tools to support the legal self-determination of those who facilitate the conception, fabrication, production, exhibition and circulation of art.

W.A.G.E.'s complete history, including organizational milestones, summits, collaborations, events, open letters, videos, annual certifications and more, is chronicled in the TIMELINE .