W.A.G.E. Certification is a national program initiated and operated by W.A.G.E. that publicly recognizes those nonprofit art institution demonstrating a history of, and commitment to, voluntarily paying artist fees that meet our minimum payment standards.
W.A.G.E. Certification's Fee Calculator determines fair pay using two mechanisms. It establishes a compensation floor for fees in fifteen categories, and it scales them up from the floor using a fixed percentage of an organization's total annual operating expenses.
Launched in 2014, W.A.G.E. Certification is the first model of its kind — and the first in the U.S. — to establish a sector-wide minimum standard for compensation, as well as a clear set of guidelines for the conditions under which artistic labor is contracted. To date, more than $13 million has been paid out to artists through the program's administration.
The U.S. nonprofit arts sector is a robust economy involving thousands of tax-exempt organizations that range in size from small artist-run spaces struggling to support a single employee to large institutions with thousands of full-time workers, annual operating budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and top salaries in the seven figures. Many were founded to support living artists and have enshrined this goal in the mission statements that define the charitable purpose on which their nonprofit status depends.
Among all the professionals who participate in this economy, artists are often alone among those whose contributions go uncompensated. While many nonprofit arts organizations provide fees to artists for some forms of participation, fees are rarely provided for the most basic contributions artists make. Exhibition budgets include compensation for curators, writers, insurers, shippers, designers, printers, preparators, caterers and event organizers, among many others, but rarely for the artists on whom the exhibition itself depends.
Artist compensation has never been mandated by city, state, or national legislation, by government agencies or by the private foundations that provide financial support to nonprofits through the grant making process. The result is a sector in which participation is often unsustainable for the very people its organizations were created to support.
W.A.G.E. Certification was initiated in 2010 in response to these conditions and was developed by artists in dialog with local and international organizations. It was established as a policy in January 2014 at the 2014 W.A.G.E. Certification Summit, and launched in October of that year.
To read the 2014 policy narrative and learn how the program was developed, please click here .
"Artist" refers to all those who supply content and services in a nonprofit visual arts presenting context, including visual artists, performers, dancers, poets, filmmakers, writers, and musicians among others. W.A.G.E. does not distinguish between individual and collective/collaborative providers of content and services. All are covered under the term "Artist." W.A.G.E. does distinguish between the "Contracted Artist" who has been engaged by an organization to participate in programs, and the "Sub-Contracted Artist" who may be engaged by an artist to participate in a project or program.
A nonprofit arts organization refers to 501(c)3 tax exempt arts organizations and institutions that produce programs and exhibitions for a viewing public in a visual arts presenting context, as well as programs and services that engage and support the practices of artists, but do not necessarily engage a viewing public directly.
An artist fee is compensation for time-limited content and services provided by artists to nonprofit arts organizations as contracted by nonprofit arts organizations in the course of mounting programs, as defined by their mission. An artist fee is not intended as compensation for the labor or materials of making art but is the expected remuneration for an artist’s temporary transactional relationship with an institution to provide content. Payment is not for the content itself but is for its provision. The artist fee is distinct and separate from basic programming costs and services, production expenses, and the purchase of art works or copyrights. Payment of an artist fee does not imply the transfer of ownership or rights from artist to organization. Any transfer of ownership or rights must be negotiated between artist and organization under a separate agreement.
W.A.G.E. Certification is an annual commitment that must be renewed at the start of each fiscal year. Before renewing, institutions are required to demonstrate having met W.A.G.E. standards by logging each artist fee payment in the certification app and submitting them for review at the close of each fiscal year. In addition to tracking fees, a W.A.G.E. Certified institution must also meet the following requirements:
An artist fee is distinct and separate from basic programming costs and services. Basic programming costs are the costs associated with the basic requirements of mounting programs as defined by the organization's mission and are irrespective of specific content. These basic requirements also constitute the basic programming services an organization must provide to artists in mounting programs. The provision of basic programming costs and services are required for W.A.G.E. Certification and include:
Provision of exhibition, performance, or projection space
Preparation of exhibition, performance, or projection space for the program
Shipping and insurance costs when necessary
Presentation infrastructure, including display equipment, exhibition furniture and lighting
Documentation of exhibition or event
Promotion of exhibition or event
Travel and accommodation when necessary
Obtaining and paying for image rights for commissioned and existing texts
Criteria for organizations supporting non-material practices that are not exhibition or program-based, and whose presentation or execution does not utilize physical space can be accommodated. Please contact us directly.
Production costs are also distinct and separate from basic programming costs and services, and from investments an organization may make in display equipment or exhibition furniture in conjunction with the presentation of a specific program when these remain the property of the organization for future use. The organization may negotiate reimbursement of production expenses if the work is sold subsequent to exhibition. Production costs may include (but are not limited to):
Fabrication of work
Specialized installation expenses above and beyond basic programming costs and services
Subcontracted labor by graphic designers, fabricators, performers, lighting designers, etc.
The coverage of production costs by the organization is not required for W.A.G.E. Certification. However, W.A.G.E. Certified organizations may not reduce or omit artist fees in connection with the coverage of production costs. Production costs and artist fees must constitute their own separate and distinct line items in exhibition and operating budgets.
W.A.G.E. fees are calculated using a simple equation: the higher an institution’s annual operating expenses, the higher the fee. The minimum amount of compensation an institution must provide in order to be W.A.G.E. Certified is determined by its projected Total Annual Operating Expenses (TAOE). Fees are calculated by W.A.G.E. each fiscal year as a fixed percentage of an instution's TAOE when over $500,000. A custom Fee Schedule is assigned to each institution as part of the annual certification process. The assigned level of compensation will fall into one of the following 4 tiers:
For institutions with TAOE below $500,000. These institutions must pay fees at floor level or higher in order to be certified.
For institutions with TAOE between $500,000 and $5 million. These institutions must pay Minimum W.A.G.E. fees in order to be certified. Fees must be no less than the specified fixed percentage of the organization's TAOE, scaled up from the floor, or Floor W.A.G.E. Please note that the minimum required for certification in the following categories cap off before $5 million:
Solo Screening with In-Person Appearance caps off at $625 at the $2.5 million threshold.
Event with Presentations or Performances by 2 or More Participants caps off at $625 at the $2.5 million threshold.
Talk, Discussion, or Workshop with 2 or More Participants caps off at $440 at the $1.5 million threshold.
Existing Talk, Presentation or Reading caps off at $625 at the $1.5 million threshold.
For institutions with TAOE between $5 million and $30 million. Even though minimum fee requirements cap off at $5 million, institutions with TAOE in this range are strongly encouraged to pay fees according to a continued scale-up until the cap at Maximum W.A.G.E. Should institutions decline to offer Living W.A.G.E. rates, artists can request them using WAGENCY.
For institutions with TAOE over $30 million. These institutions must not exceed a specified maximum rate of compensation. At Maximum W.A.G.E., the Solo Exhibition rate is capped at $60,000, with corresponding higher caps in all fee categories. $60,000 represents the average salary of full-time employees at institutions with operating expenses over $15 million. This calculation was made in 2023 using the most recent publicly available tax documents from 59 museums across the U.S. with operating expenses over $15 million. A Maximum W.A.G.E. was put in place to ensure that no one unfairly profits from the redistribution of resources, including artists themselves.
Use the Fee Calculator to view pay rates in all four tiers.
*Please note: Starting on July 1, 2023, W.A.G.E. minimum fees increased by 25% to account for the cumulative rate of inflation since pricing was introduced in 2014. Here are the new rates for Floor Fees in 15 Categories:
Solo Exhibition $1,250
Solo Project $750
2-Person Exhibition $625
Group Exhibition, 3 - 5 Artists $315
Group Exhibition, 6+ Artists $190
Performance of Existing Work $500
Performance, Commission of New Work $1,000
Solo Screening with In-Person Appearance $125
Event with Presentations or Performances by 2 or More Participants $125
Talk, Discussion, or Workshop with 2 or More Participants $125
Existing Talk, Presentation or Reading $125
Commissioned Talk or Presentation $190
Existing Text for Publication $0.030 per word, $65 minimum fee
Commissioned Text for Publication $0.30 per word
Rate for Performers $30/hour or $150/day, whichever is higher
Most W.A.G.E. Certified institutions produce programs with artists that do not fit precisely within these fee categories. These programs can usually be accommodated, please contact us directly.
An exhibition focused on a single artist. It may extend across a full floor or a series of spaces or include a series of programs. It may involve existing, new and commissioned work and often involves the presentation of a number of different works and the publication of a catalog. A Solo Exhibition is defined as inclusive of a range of content and services, including some of the categories listed below (performances, programming, screenings).
The presentation by a single artist that comprises a single work, body of work or project, and is smaller in scale than a Solo Exhibition.
An exhibition focused on the work of two artists. This may involve existing, new or commissioned work.
An exhibition focused on the work of three to five artists. This includes works of performance.
An exhibition focused on the work of six or more artists, including a recurring survey exhibition such as a biennial. This includes works of performance.
For each performance of an existing work. Fees are paid to the Contracted Artist and are exclusive of other costs including installation, materials, shipping, transportation, lodging, and per diem which fall under Basic Programming Costs and Services or Production Costs. Fees to other performers are dispensed under Rate for Performers. *Please note that fees in this category increased on July 1, 2023.
A new performance work commissioned by a host institution. A work in this category is a featured presentation by a single artist akin in scale to a Solo Exhibition. The Solo Project category may be used for commissioned works of performance that are smaller in scale than a Solo Exhibition. Fees are paid to the Contracted Artist and are exclusive of other costs including installation, materials, shipping, transportation, lodging, and per diem which fall under Basic Programming Costs and Services or Production Costs. Fees to other performers are dispensed under Rate for Performers. *Please note that fees in this category increased on July 1, 2023.
The screening of a film or video accompanied by an in-person appearance by the artist. The fee is separate and distinct from any rental fees paid to a film distributor. The continuous screening of a film or video in an exhibition is covered under the exhibition categories listed above. In the case of both single and continuous screening in an exhibition context, institutions are not required to pay an artist fee if a fee is paid to a distributor. If an artist self-distributes their work, rates are negotiated between artist and institution. W.A.G.E. recommends a minimum rental fee of $315 per feature and $100 per short film. The continuous screening of a film or video in an exhibition is covered under the exhibition categories listed above.
A single event with solo presentations or performances by two or more participants. This may include works such as, but not limited, to performances, screenings, or readings.
A single event with the simultaneous or shared participation of two or more participants.
The delivery by a single participant of an existing talk or visual presentation of works, or the reading of a text to an audience. An Artist Talk in conjunction with an exhibition is considered additional content and must be compensated separately. An exhibition walk-through or video interview may be included as content provided by the artist as part of the program, but it must be negotiated as such with the contracting institution and acknowledged as labor. In larger institutions where different departments may work with an artist to produce different content for the same program, it is the responsibility of the institution to coordinate between departments and produce a single cohesive contract agreement. For smaller institutions, all content being produced for the program should be itemized and agreed upon by both artist and institution.
The delivery by a single participant of a new presentation or talk. Criteria for what constitutes new content must be negotiated between artist and institution.
The reprinting of an existing text in a publication issued by an organization.
A new essay or text commissioned for publication by an organization. (Copyright remains with the artist/author: payment of a fee does not render the commission "work for hire.")
Fees paid to performers participating in commissioned and existing performances created by the Contracted Artist. Rate for Performers at institutions with TAOE up to $5 million is $30/hour or $150/day, whichever is higher. Rate for Performers at institutions with TAOE over $5 million is $60/hr or $300/day, whichever is higher. Hourly rate now scales up to $100/hr or $500/day, whichever is higher, at the Maximum W.A.G.E. Fees to performers must be covered by the institution. They can be paid directly to performers or to the Contracted Artist for redistribution. ‘Performers’ include all persons who may be understood as performers, whether called Facilitators, Re-performers, Caretakers or other. In some cases this category may also be used to contract other forms of temporary waged labor not covered by this schedule. Fee offer must be articulated to applicants at time of audition/interview and Performers must receive a contract for review a minimum of 5 business days before signing and returning. If the contracted work takes place over a period of more than 30 days, Performers must be hired as Temporary Employees and not Independent Contractors.
Artists receive a fee each time their work is mounted in a Traveling Exhibition. A Traveling Exhibition may include any category in this schedule. Participating artists receive a standard full W.A.G.E. fee for the first iteration of the exhibition, paid by the originating venue. In subsequent iterations, each fee is paid by the host institution and treated as an ‘Exhibition Fee’. An Exhibition Fee is 50% of the standard full fee. For example, if a host institution's TAOE is $500,000 or less, the fee for a Group Exhibition with 6+ Artists would be a minimum of $95 per artist, or 50% of $190. If an artist is required to install their work each time the exhibition is mounted, the host institution must pay the artist using the Rate for Performers category in this schedule, in addition to covering travel and accommodation expenses. Please note this category is not included in the Fee Calculator.
Below are some additional guidelines not included above about what to pay for and how to pay for it.
Fees for the provision of online digital content in any of the categories above should be the same. An artist fee is not intended as compensation for the labor or materials of making the work but is the expected remuneration for an artist’s temporary transactional relationship with an institution to provide content. Payment is not for the content itself but is for its provision.
Artists should never be charged a fee to participate in exhibitions or programs, including application or submission fees for both juried and open call exhibitions. While these kinds of exhibition formats may be well-intentioned in terms of fostering broader inclusivity, charging for participation represents yet another barrier to entry for those already experiencing structural forms of exclusion, dispossession, and disinvestment in their daily lives.