This page tracks W.A.G.E.'s interest in contractual materials, starting in 2015 with an unfinished yearslong effort to produce a resale royalty contract on blockchain through to the present day with the development of CONTRACTS , a forthcoming project focused on tools for the legal self-determination of art workers.
In 2015, W.A.G.E. began developing an updated and modular version on blockchain of Seth Siegelaub and Robert Projansky’s 1971 The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sales Agreement , also known as The Artist’s Contract.
The Artist’s Contract was intended to give artists control over the conditions of the sale of their work as well as the conditions of its exhibition, resale, and other concerns beyond artists’ oversight once it has been transferred. It may be best known for introducing the resale royalty — the right of artists to claim 15% of any increase in the value of their work after the first sale.
After more than 2 years of research and development, including the W.A.G.E. Artists' Resale Rights Working Group (2015), a series of artist discussion groups, as well as long form interviews with art dealers, art advisors, and collectors, in October 2017 W.A.G.E. convened a closed 2-day summit at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, UK to establish a policy framework and move the project toward realization.
Representing W.A.G.E.'s first step beyond the nonprofit sector and conceived as a key component of WAGENCY, the purpose of The Artist's Contract on Blockchain was to reclaim a portion of the surplus of wealth generated by speculation on the unpaid labor of artists; to redistribute this surplus to bring about a more equitable distribution of art’s economy; and to control the conditions under which artists’ work is used.
With developments in blockchain technology occuring faster than our ability to fund and build the project in addition to WAGENCY, another summit was convened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts the following summer to update and further refine our approach.
In 2019, after W.A.G.E.'s involvement in Decolonize This Place's Whitney Museum campaign , our interest in contracts grew to include standard exhibition and Non-Disclosure Agreements which constitute a little known structural barrier to artists collectively organizing, especially in the context of museums. Whether challenging labor relations or institutional governance, these agreements inhibit artists from self-organizing or withholding content from exhibitions.
Navigating the increasingly fraught state of the art system in the age political protest, and without the resources in place to bring The Artist's Contract on Blockchain to fruition, it remained in a holding pattern until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that point W.A.G.E. pivoted away from an effort to reform the commercial market and toward the urgent and much deeper crisis most working artists were facing: not the loss of income from artist fees or sales but the loss of income from secondary jobs — the work we do to support ourselves which is often freelance, non-unionized gig work such as artist assisting, studio managing, art handling, and adjunct teaching.
In summer 2020, we returned to The Artist Assistant's Work Agreement which had been developed in 2018 for WAGENCY, and embarked on building CONTRACTS , a new third arm of the W.A.G.E. platform focused on tools for the legal self-determination of art workers.
Note: A large amount of written material was produced in the development of The Artist's Contract on Blockchain and will be made available in the future.
The criteria for W.A.G.E.'s 2018 analysis and first draft agreement was derived in part from a series of long-form interviews conducted in New York in 2017 with persons who have or were then working as artists’ assistants, in addition to conversations with artists who were then employing assistants. The collection of individual accounts was crucial in locating common needs and outlining best practices to help both parties navigate the inherent power dynamics of the workplace while creating mutually sustainable relationships between artists and their assistants.
Building on The Artist Assistant's Work Agreement, in summer 2020 we embarked on the development of a second agreement for art handlers. Extended Zoom conversations with Ian Epps of the Art Handlers Alliance of New York led to our co-organizing a roundtable discussion to review and build on W.A.G.E.'s first draft agreement. The group included representatives from Arts Workers for Black Lives, Art Handlxrs, and Level It.
Introduction (15–30 min)
Ian: Groups briefly introduce themselves and their work.
Lise: Introduces the project, its origin, and context within W.A.G.E.’s work. Screenshares of the updated Artist Assistant Work Agreement and draft of the Art Handler Work Agreement.
Part 1 (45 min–1 hour)
Ask each group to share how the forms of exclusion and inequity their work addresses manifest in the workplace, with a focus on representation and pay scales. Here we’re looking to understand the structural barriers to entry, advancement, and leadership, as well as any conditions of work culture that perpetuate exclusion and inequity, noting any differences between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.
Part 2 (45 min–1 hour)
Open discussion about strategies for reforming hiring practices, and enforcing equal representation and pay, with the goal of developing contractual mechanisms within the Art Handler Work Agreement.
In preparation for drafting The Teaching Artist's Work Agreement, with the help of Heleya De Barros, Co-Executive Director of the Teaching Artists Guild, W.A.G.E. assembled an informal roundtable discussion on freelance teaching artist labor. Participating were Norwood Creech (Memphis), Carina del Rosario (Seattle), William Estrada (Chicago), Amanda Adams Louis (New York), Heleya de Barros (Seattle).
What distinguishes the labor of freelance teaching artists from that of employees?
Sketch out scenarios in which teaching artists would be hired as independent contractors, as well as scenarios in which they might be classified as employees; develop a set of parameters defining the nature of legitimate freelance teaching work.
What are the different contexts a freelance teaching artist might work in?
Develop a comprehensive list of work contexts including venue (museum, school etc); employer (city agency, nonprofit organization); hiring party (who would be using this contract on the employer side?); learner constituency (age, subject etc).
What are the skills freelance teaching artists might be contracted to supply?
Enumerate the skills necessary to supplying the services expected in the scenarios outlined above.
What forms of exploitation do freelance teaching artists experience?
Discuss and outline the various forms of exploitation freelance teaching artists might experience in the following areas: wage equity and transparency, worker safety, equal representation, compensation, and worker classification. In addition, the need for intellectual property protection.
Based on what we learn through our discussion, can we set cross-sectorial pay rates?