W.A.G.E. Certification

W.A.G.E. Certification is a national program initiated and operated by W.A.G.E. that publicly recognizes those nonprofit art institutions 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 $17 million has been paid out to artists through the program's administration.

BACKGROUND

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 .

DEFINITIONS

Artist

"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.

Nonprofit Arts Organization

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.

Artist Fee

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. 

REQUIREMENTS

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: 

Basic Programming Costs and Services

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

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

  • Studio rental

  • Equipment rental

  • 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.

FEE CALCULATION

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:

1. Floor W.A.G.E.* 

For institutions with TAOE below $500,000. These institutions must pay fees at floor level or higher in order to be certified.

2. Minimum W.A.G.E. 

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. 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.

3. Living W.A.G.E.

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 Fee Request them using WAGENCY

4. Maximum W.A.G.E.

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 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.


*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:

  • 1.

    Solo Exhibition $1,250

  • 2.

    Solo Project $750

  • 3.

    2-Person Exhibition $625

  • 4.

    Group Exhibition, 3 - 5 Artists $315

  • 5.

    Group Exhibition, 6+ Artists $190

  • 6.

    Performance of Existing Work $500

  • 7.

    Performance, Commission of New Work $1,000

  • 8.

    Solo Screening with In-Person Appearance $125

  • 9.

    Event with Presentations or Performances by 2 or More Participants $125

  • 10.

    Talk, Discussion, or Workshop with 2 or More Participants $125

  • 11.

    Existing Talk, Performance, Presentation or Reading $125

  • 12.

    Commissioned Talk or Presentation $190

  • 13.

    Existing Text for Publication $0.030 per word, $65 minimum fee

  • 14.

    Commissioned Text for Publication $0.30 per word

  • 15.

    Rate for Performers $30/hour or $150/day, whichever is higher

FEE CATEGORIES

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.

1. Solo Exhibition

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). 

2. Solo Project

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.

3. 2-Person Exhibition

An exhibition focused on the work of two artists. This may involve existing, new or commissioned work.

4. Group Exhibition, 3 - 5 Artists

An exhibition focused on the work of three to five artists. This includes works of performance.

5. Group Exhibition, 6+ Artists

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.

6. Performance of Existing Work

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.

7. Performance, Commission of New Work

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.

8. Solo Screening with In-Person Appearance

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.

9. Event with Presentations or Performances by 2 or More Participants

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.

10. Talk, Discussion, or Workshop with 2 or More Participants

A single event with the simultaneous or shared participation of two or more participants.

11. Existing Talk, Performance, Presentation or Reading

The delivery by a single participant of an existing talk, performance, 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.

12. Commissioned Talk or Presentation

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.

13. Existing Text for Publication

The reprinting of an existing text in a publication issued by an organization.

14. Commissioned Text for Publication

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.")

15. Rate for Performers

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.

16. Traveling Exhibition

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. 

PAYMENT GUIDELINES

Below are some additional guidelines not included above about what to pay for and how to pay for it.

Digital content

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.

Charging for participation

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.

Paying fees on time

W.A.G.E. follows New York City's Freelance Isn’t Free Act  (Local Law 140 of 2016) which establishes and enhances protections for freelance workers. Under this law artists have the right to a written contract, the right to be paid timely and in full, and the right to be free of retaliation. Artists should be paid within 30 days of completion of work. Please see § 20-929 Unlawful Payment Practices which states the following:

a. Except as otherwise provided by law, the contracted compensation shall be paid to the freelance worker either:

1. On or before the date such compensation is due under the terms of the contract; or 2. If the contract does not specify when the hiring party must pay the contracted compensation or the mechanism by which such date will be determined, no later than 30 days after the completion of the freelance worker’s services under the contract.

b. Once a freelance worker has commenced performance of the services under the contract, the hiring party shall not require as a condition of timely payment that the freelance worker accept less compensation than the amount of the contracted compensation.

CERTIFICATION FAQ

Our gallery is part of a university. Should we use the total annual operating expenses of the university to determine our fees? 

No. You should use the total annual operating expenses of the gallery only, but in your projected budget you should include any in-kind support such as space, utilities, and salaries that are subsidized by the university. When first registering with W.A.G.E., you should use the EIN of the university your gallery is associated with.


Our institution is now W.A.G.E. Certified. Is there anything we have to do to maintain our status?

Yes! There are 2 things your institution must do.

  • 1.

    Track all fee payments made to artists during the fiscal year. This can be done anytime as long as all payments are recorded within 60 days of fiscal year-end. Once your payments have been entered, submit them for review. You'll receive a notification once they have been approved.

  • 2.

    Recertify each fiscal year. Your current certification will expire when your fiscal year does, so your institution must re-register for certification once all payments are tracked and approved. You'll begin receiving automated reminders from W.A.G.E. 30 days before your certificate is due to expire.


Is there a W.A.G.E. certificate we can add to our website so artists and funders will know we're certified?

Yes. In the Certification Dashboard under the Current Certification tab, you'll find a dynamic SVG logo which should be embedded on your website. It is time-stamped and indicates your current certification status. When your certification expires, the certificate will no longer display the checkmark and will indicate expiry.


How do we know if our institution is no longer certified?

There are 3 ways to find out your institution's status.

  • 1.

    Your current status is listed in the Certification Dashboard under the Current Certification tab.

  • 2.

    If the SVG certificate on your website says Certificate Expired, your institution is no longer certified.

  • 3.

    If the checkmark has disappeared from your listing on the Certified Institutions page , your institution is no longer certified.


How do I add another user to our institution's admin?

The initial administrator can add another user under the Account Settings tab in the Certification Dashboard. Scroll down to Institutional Collaborators, click the ADD COLLABORATOR button. Enter the email address of the person you wish to add and send the invitation. Once the collaborator has registered as a user with W.A.G.E., we will connect them with your institution's account.


Our institution contracts other kinds of freelance labor beyond the W.A.G.E. fee schedule. Are we responsible for paying them according to W.A.G.E. standards and reporting the payments we make?

No. W.A.G.E.'s 15 fee categories broadly define the work artists do in the nonprofit sector for which there were no existing payment standards and guidelines until the introduction of W.A.G.E. Certification in 2014. W.A.G.E.'s work is an effort to enforce their standardization across the sector. If your institution contracts freelance workers who provide content and services for which there are existing industry standards, such as graphic designers, lighting designers, or exhibition furniture fabricators, for example, your institution should compensate them accordingly. 


Our institution contracts freelance curators. Why isn’t there a fee category for independent curators?

W.A.G.E. does not recommend using its artist fee structure to determine curatorial fees. The W.A.G.E. model does not — and cannot — account for artists’ actual labor time. If it did, most nonprofits couldn’t afford to pay them and not all artists want to commodify their studio time or identify as waged workers. Curators, on the other hand, have an opportunity to command rates of pay that more closely track with living wage standards. While there is commonality between the unpaid labor of artists and the underpaid labor of curators, curatorial labor is generally waged while artists’ labor is not. Curators can therefore determine pay rates using existing industry standards for waged or salaried curatorial employees (W-2). W.A.G.E. is currently developing a work agreement for independent curators that will determine fees in direct relation to these pay rates as well as Department of Labor standards by region. Please see Contracts  for more information.


Does our institution have to contract artists’ labor in all 15 fee categories in order to be certified?

No. But you must track at least 5 fees in any category during the fiscal year in order to be certified.