Since its founding in 2008, W.A.G.E.’s 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-dollar 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 three connected programs, W.A.G.E. Certification, WAGENCY, and CONTRACTS, a new set of legal tools for non-unionized freelance workers whose labor facilitates the conception, fabrication, production, exhibition and circulation of art (forthcoming).