Below are the required minimum pay rates for general artist assisting in two capacities. They reflect an estimated living wage calculus for New York City, which currently ranks as having the highest cost of living in the U.S., and where there is a high concentration of artists and artist assistants. To determine an equivalent living wage in another region please start with MIT's Living Wage Calculator.
Artist Assisting Starting Rate: $25/hour minimum
Managerial Positions Starting Rate: $30/hour minimum
When the employing artist and assistant discuss and agree upon an equitable rate, they should consider other factors, including previous experience, if there are special skills required or being offered, duration of work, regularity of agreed-upon work, number of hours worked per week, whether it is part-time or full-time, hourly or salaried, what benefits the employer can offer if the assistant is classified as an employee, or what the assistant will need to take on if classified as an independent contractor. In addition to a salary or hourly pay, some artists implement agreements to pay their assistant(s) a percentage of the sale of artworks to which they have contributed. All of these factors, as well as others, are accounted for in the WAGENCY Work Agreement.
Employing artists should advocate for equitable pay for their assistants when working in an institutional setting. Assistant labor must be understood by institutions as a cost of production in the mounting of exhibitions which is not the responsibility of the exhibiting artist. However, cases may arise in which outside labor may conflict with in-house staff responsibilities and hours. These should be carefully negotiated to ensure that assistants do not displace or reduce the hours of existing institutional workers.
Suggested rates for assisting an employer during exhibition installation are budgeted for a 10-hour day. For example, an individual whose install rate is set at $35/hour would suggest the institution budget for a day rate of $350. Rates are higher to reflect the additional expense of being away (if applicable), working more demanding hours, and to acknowledge assistants' specialized skills and knowledge of their employers’ work. Travel, lodging, and per diem(s) for the installing assistant(s) are typically budgeted in addition to the day rate.
The employing artist's role in collecting and withholding taxes will depend on worker classification. If it has been determined that the assistant is an employee (W-2), the employing artist will be responsible for collecting and filing half of the assistant's Social Security and Medicare taxes (FICA).
The employing artist's obligation to provide benefits for things like insurance, pension plans, paid vacation, sick days, and disability insurance will also depend on worker classification. The IRS notes that businesses generally do not grant these benefits to independent contractors, but the lack of these types of benefits does not necessarily mean the worker is an independent contractor. The WAGENCY Work Agreement includes a list of possible benefits that the employing artist can provide.
As required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the IRS has outlined the requirements for mandating an employer to provide healthcare. In summary, the IRS states that the "vast majority of employers fall below the ALE (Applicable Large Employer) size threshold and therefore are not subject to the employer shared responsibility provisions." The ALE size threshold is generally 50 full-time employees including full-time equivalent employees. A comprehensive Q&A about the Employer Shared Responsibility Provisions Under the Affordable Care Act can be found here.