From 2011 until 2018 Artists Space was a consistent institutional presence in W.A.G.E.'s work. During a 3-year research partnership it provided financial transparency, resources and physical space while also functioning as a 'test case' in the development of W.A.G.E. Certification. Throughout the partnership, complex but productive questions arose about the nature of the content being produced and who should be paying for it.
Long after the research partnership had concluded and Artists Space became the first W.A.G.E. Certified institution, it continued to be a converging point for W.A.G.E. For several years, Artists Space Books & Talks at 55 Walker Street functioned as a part-time office and organizing space. There we convened a series of working groups including the Artists Resale Rights Working Group, The Artist's Contract on Blockchain, a WAGENCY focus group, and planning sessions for the People's Cultural Plan . Marking the last event before the closing of 55 Walker Street in late 2018, Artists Space hosted W.A.G.E. RAGER 10-year womAnniversary *Not-a-Gala* Party! celebrating 10 years of W.A.G.E RAGE and the official launch of WAGENCY.
In March 2011, Artists Space initiated a dialogue with W.A.G.E. about the implications of the 2010 W.A.G.E. Survey and W.A.G.E. Certification, resulting in the formation of a temporary research partnership between the two organizations. The partnership provided W.A.G.E. and Artists Space with a cooperative platform on which to organize a series of symposia/public discussions and strategic think tanks involving artists, activists, curators, grantmakers, administrators, economists, sociologists, and the public in an extended conversation about payment practices in the arts. Events began in early 2012 and were designed to engage a diverse arts community on multiple levels, providing vital dialogue and feedback through which W.A.G.E.'s certification program was to be developed. The first forum, Feeling the Shape of the Arts Economy was followed by W.A.G.E. Survey Release: Presentation and Open Forum , and later Marion von Osten: Be Creative! With responses from Andrew Ross which included a presentation by W.A.G.E. summarizing recent developments in the conception of W.A.G.E. Certification.
Alongside public programs, W.A.G.E. conducted research into Artists Space's history of fee payment between 2005 and 2010, the same time frame as the 2010 W.A.G.E. Survey. Charting the organization's exhibition schedule year by year, counting the number of participating artists and confirming what the organization had paid out in fees, we learned that there was little consistency in the fee size and that Artists Space had spent between 0.6% and 1.4% of its total annual operating budget on artist compensation annually. Further research indicated that if Artists Space had used CARFAC's recommended fee schedule it would only have spent between 1.3% and 2.3% of its total budget on fees.
By looking at artist compensation in direct proportion to what the organization had chosen to spend on its operations, the actual value it had placed on artistic labor became apparent. At that point the question was no longer whether artists were getting paid or how much, but how the value of artistic labor should be determined and how its remuneration could be enforced. This research represented the fee-to-annual budget equation that would later become the W.A.G.E. Fee Calculator.
In January 2014, a group of minds from across the fields of labor, sociology, economy, theory, and arts administration, whose work has been central to W.A.G.E., convened at Cage, NY to establish the policy for W.A.G.E. Certification. Using Artists Space as a test case, core organizer Lise Soskolne, board members A.K. Burns, Howie Chen, Andrea Fraser, and Marina Vishmidt, along with Alison Gerber, Stephanie Luce, Andrew Ross, and Artists Space staff members Richard Birkett, Stephanie Jauch and Stefan Kalmár, looked closely at the organization's institutional structure and budget, considered the conditions under which it operates, and questioned the mechanisms it used to determine the organization, valuation, and compensation of labor.
W.A.G.E. Certification's core principles had been developed over the preceding several years and were presented as a draft framework at the summit's first session. Each of the following seven sessions were led by at least two designated participants and were designed to produce specific outcomes, as detailed in the summit agenda . With the assistance of artist Park McArthur, over two days we talked through, negotiated, and arrived at an equation for fee payment and a revised set of principles. W.A.G.E. Certification was further developed and refined over the following months, with additional input from artist Abigail Levine and Suhail Malik.
The summit marked the conclusion of W.A.G.E.'s Research Partnership with Artists Space, and its findings were presented publicly in May 2014 at Out of Alternatives , a conference at Artists Space organized by Common Practice New York and the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College. W.A.G.E. Certification was officially launched in October 2014, at which time Artists Space became the first organization to be certified.
The Artists' Resale Rights Working Group came together in spring 2015 through a visit to New York by April Britski, Executive Director of CARFAC, who was working on a campaign to have the Artist’s Resale Right added to the Canadian Copyright Act and was interested in connecting with people working toward similar goals in the U.S., specifically on the ART Act. Unable to locate anyone, W.A.G.E. instead invited a handful of people who were actively interested in the subject – a cluster that had formed in various ways around The Contract , an exhibition organized by Maxwell Graham at his gallery, Essex Street. After an initial gathering at Artists Space with April Britski, the local group (Richard Birkett, Maxwell Graham, Lauren van Haaften Schick, Leah Pires, Cameron Rowland, and Lise Soskolne) began meeting there regularly.
Its efforts were initially focused on developing a comprehensive understanding of the ART Act's implications as well as any proposal for artists' resale royalties, and was not necessarily taking a position on or relative to them. However, there was consensus among the group that the bill’s limitation to auction sales alone with no coverage of private secondary market sales would benefit very few artists. There were also shared concerns about the proposed $35,000 cap on the royalty payment while fees charged by auction houses would remain unlimited relative to the selling price.
The idea to stage a public forum surfaced at a chance meeting on a Sunday afternoon at a gallery in the LES between several of the group's members and artist Hans Haacke, well-known for his long term use of Seth Siegelaub and Robert Projansky’s The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sales Agreement, also known as The Artist's Contract. The group began to organize The Artist’s Resale Right , an event which took place at Artists Space on July 22, 2015 and included Dr. Theodore Feder and Janet Hicks of the Artists Rights Society, Maxwell Graham, Hans Haacke, Lauren van Haaften-Schick, R. H. Quaytman, and Justice Barbara Jaffe.
As the group's activity began to slow, W.A.G.E. became increasingly interested in The Artist's Contract and its function as a tool for self-regulation. With W.A.G.E.'s idea to use then-emerging Blockchain technology to produce an enforcable and traceable version of Siegelaub's 1971 paper contract, the group winnowed down to three members and reconfigured itself into the W.A.G.E. Resale Right Working Group.
The working group's legal and historical research into the Siegelaub agreement deepened in 2016 while connections between the development of what we began to call The Artist's Contract on Blockchain and WAGENCY began to take shape. During that time, Artists Space Books & Talks continued to provide vital space for working groups. In May 2016, W.A.G.E. organized an artist focus group at 55 Walker Street to get feedback on a draft policy framework for WAGENCY, and between December 2016 and February 2017, the W.A.G.E. Resale Right Working Group organized a series of discussions or 'study groups' to introduce this new line of inquiry.
Read more about W.A.G.E.'s effort to develop The Artist's Contract on Blockchain and the project's evolution during the Covid-19 pandemic into the provision of contractual tools for the legal self-determination of art workers.
Celebrating 10 years of W.A.G.E RAGE and the official launch of WAGENCY, W.A.G.E. RAGER 10-year womAnniversary *Not-a-Gala* Party! took place on September 20th, 2018 at Artists Space in New York City. With live WAGENCY demo! DJ JD Samson! W.A.G.E. T-Shirt Screening Station! and W.A.G.E. Womanifesto posters! With immense gratitude to friends and supporters for celebrating with us in epic wildness, and to Amelia Bande, Malik Gaines & Alexandro Segade, Lia Gangitano & Baseera Khan, JD Samson, Keijaun Thomas, and Mariana Valencia for their performances, in all their wonder. 10 more years. RAGE on!
(T-shirt screen printing by Works in Progress NYC ! Performance videos by Jason Hirata <3)