What is W.A.G.E.? Working Artists and the Greater Economy is a New York-based activist organization founded in 2008. Our mission is to establish sustainable economic relationships between artists and the institutions that contract our labor, and to introduce mechanisms for self-regulation into the art field that collectively bring about a more equitable distribution of its economy.
Why? Read our womanifesto.
How? Since 2008 we have been collecting data, writing texts and open letters, making speeches, videos and graphics, conducting research, teaching, paneling and lecturing. Find 11 years of W.A.G.E.'s ongoing work, what preceded it, a reading list, and other resources here. Press about W.A.G.E. can be found here.
What is 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 arts organizations demonstrating a history of, and commitment to, voluntarily paying artist fees that meet our minimum payment standards.
How many have been W.A.G.E. Certified? 77
Who is W.A.G.E. Certified? Certified Institutions
What is WAGENCY? Launched on September 17th 2018, WAGENCY is a transactional platform and certification program that facilitates the fair remuneration of artists' labor in the nonprofit sector. Supplying artists with digital tools and the necessary collective agency to negotiate W.A.G.E. fees or withhold content when not paid them, WAGENCY is how we propose to organize an unpaid workforce in an unregulated field.
Who is a WAGENT? WAGENTS
Does W.A.G.E. address the commercial market? W.A.G.E. is working on an updated and modular version of Seth Siegelaub and Robert Projansky's 1971 The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer And Sale Agreement on blockchain.
Does W.A.G.E. collaborate with other groups? W.A.G.E. is a founding member and co-author of The People's Cultural Plan and has been fortunate to engage with many other organizing bodies over the years, including the Alliance of Artists Communities, AnkhLave Arts Alliance, The Architecture Lobby, Art Handler, Art Handlers Alliance of New York, ArtLeaks, Art Workers Council Frankfurt/M (Germany), The Artists Information Company (a-n, UK), Artists of Color Bloc, Artists Rights Society, Artist Studio Affordability Project, Artists Union England (UK, Artquest London (UK), ARTS.BLACK, BFAMFAPHD, CARFAC (Canada), Common Field, Common Practice London, Common Practice New York, Compensation Foundation, Decolonize This Place, Disability/Arts/NYC (DANT), Free Slow University (Poland), Glass Bead (France), Guerrilla Girls, Gulf Labor, G.U.L.F., Haben & Brauchen (Germany), HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN, Intern Labor Rights, Internationale Gesellschaft der Bildenden Künste (IGBK, Germany), MayDay Rooms (UK), Model Alliance, Murphy Institute, Museum Hue, National Performance Network, National Writers Union, not/nowhere (London), Norwegian Association of Curators (Norway), Occupy Museums, OWS Arts & Labor, Platform BK (Netherlands), Precarious Workers Brigade (UK), Reko (Sweden), Scottish Artists Union (UK), Teamsters Local 814, Unge Kunstneres Samfund/Young Artists’ Society (UKS, Norway), as well as the ILR School of Cornell University’s Arts and Entertainment Worker Resource Center in coalition with Actors' Equity, American Guild of Musical Artists, IATSE Local 764, IATSE Local 798, Local 600 International Cinematographers Guild, Local 802 Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Writers Guild of America, East.
December 16, 2019
October 13, 2019 marked 5 years since the launch of W.A.G.E. Certification, a national program that publicly recognizes those nonprofit art institutions demonstrating a history of, and commitment to, voluntarily paying artist fees that meet W.A.G.E.’s minimum standards of compensation.With a total of $5,557,516 paid out to artists through 6,970 transactions, W.A.G.E. Certification had something to celebrate on its fifth birthday – so we commissioned a report to mark it.
Using tens of thousands of data points provided by W.A.G.E. Certified institutions and collected through 5 years of the program's administration, The Cornell University Survey Research Institute's analysis was informed by a set of questions posed by W.A.G.E. about how the redistribution of resources has impacted both artists and institutions, and how the model has worked for the complexity of the field. Now a tool, a service, and a coalition, W.A.G.E. Certification was initiated and developed by artists, and introduced in 2014 as both a labor campaign and a worker-driven experiment in institutional self-regulation. At its core is the assertion that artists function as contracted labor when we enter into temporary transactional relationships with institutions to provide content. It was an experiment because there was little evidence at the time to suggest that institutions would voluntarily commit to doing what was right according to standards they didn’t directly participate in developing.
5 years after the introduction of W.A.G.E. Certification, the report lays out the results of this experiment and affirms what W.A.G.E. hoped might be possible: that institutions can self-regulate, the field can self-organize, and that artists can and are starting to get paid for their labor.
With a special thanks to Lubna Sharab for her work with the W◼A◼G◼E◼D◼A◼T◼A◼
Last month W.A.G.E. circulated a public invitation to artists participating in the 2019 Whitney Biennial. We invited them to use WAGENCY to withhold content from the exhibition in solidarity with Whitney staff until a set of demands made by the staff are met by museum leadership.
In the coming weeks, the Whitney Museum will make public the names of the 70+ artists selected by the Biennial’s curatorial team. It is in support of these artists, and with the recognition that those of us not chosen in 2019 could just as easily be selected in 2021, 2023, 2025, 2027 and every two years henceforth, that W.A.G.E. extends this invitation to all artists participating in future Biennials at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Like other exhibition conventions, biennials are very effective at dividing artists. Even though the work we make as individuals is the result of interconnected friendships and discourse cultivated across generations, exhibitions like the Whitney Biennial render our interdependency invisible. They reproduce racialized class division by rewarding a chosen few with increased cultural, social or economic capital, and they pit us against each other both as friends and as workers.
The 2019 Whitney Biennial is an opportunity to resist being divided by coming together around a political demand. Using WAGENCY, we can also author our collective dissent as a workforce and do so in support of those whose labor is critical to building artists’ economic value: museum staff.
WAGENCY is a platform for transacting labor. It enables anyone supplying content for the programs of nonprofit institutions registered in the US to send requests for compensation at W.A.G.E. standards with the option of withholding content when those standards are not met. As an organizing tool, WAGENCY can also accommodate non-monetary demands. We invite current and future biennial artists to attach the Whitney staff’s demand for accountability and transparency to their request for compensation, as pictured in the Fee Request below.
If you are an artist who is prepared to demand compensation for the content you might be selected to provide and are committed to withholding it until Whitney staff demands are met, please join WAGENCY and then contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Artists will receive temporary free access to WAGENCY and all correspondence will be kept confidential.
Below is a Fee Request template for withholding content from future Whitney Biennials. Fee Requests are sent to recipients from W.A.G.E. on behalf of WAGENTS. For more information about how WAGENCY works, please click here.
In a few months, more than 70 artists will be contracted by the Whitney Museum of American Art to supply the content for its 2019 Biennial exhibition. In the capacity of temporary workers, these artists will be permitted, and even encouraged, to publicly dissent, openly question, and politically engage with visitors through their participation.
If you are one of these artists, this invitation from W.A.G.E. is for you. We invite you to use your exceptional status as a worker who can claim both the freedom to dissent and the right to be paid to withhold your labor in solidarity with Whitney staff who cannot. We invite you to put your exceptionality to work.
This Saturday January 26th, W.A.G.E. will co-host a public Town Hall with Decolonize This Place and Chinatown Art Brigade to address what Decolonize This Place has described as a “crisis” within the Whitney Museum. This crisis concerns Warren B. Kanders, the Whitney board’s Vice Chairman, who is also the owner of Safariland, a private defense manufacturer of tear gas cannisters and smoke grenades that were most recently used against asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border this past November.
If this is a crisis, it should be understood as one that is recurring and not isolated to a single institution. Efforts by the Art Workers’ Coalition in 1969 to connect the economies of major cultural institutions to state violence and race and class-based oppression prefigure a string of recent crises implicating the Brooklyn Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, as well as the Tate Modern and the Zabludowicz Foundation in the UK.
What makes the Whitney crisis unique is that it came about not because of the public dissent of artists, but through the private dissent of a group of full-time employees and part-time contracted workers. They composed an internal letter to Director Adam D. Weinberg decrying the museum’s silence as complicity and pointed to an abdication of responsibility that would fall, in the form of increased labor and decreased political agency, on those already impacted most directly by state violence, oppression and exploitation: the museum’s visitor-facing staff. The task of explaining on behalf of silent leadership why Warren Kanders remained Vice Chairman would be assigned to the lowest paid workers who are also disproportionately Black and People of Color. Finally, the letter insists on a restorative approach to realigning power at the leadership level predicated on transparency, accountability, and museum-wide staff participation. The letter was made public without staff consent.
Unlike artists, from whom dissent is expected, dissent by museum workers is carefully managed and in the case of visitor-facing staff might easily lead to dismissal. It is in solidarity with these workers, and on behalf of their demands, that W.A.G.E. invites artists in the 2019 Whitney Biennial to do two things: demand to be paid for the content they provide and withhold that content until the demands of Whitney staff are met.
With the arrival of each biennial there is a rare opportunity for a large group of artists to collectivize their leverage because for a short time they will all share the same employer. This year there is also WAGENCY, as well as an opportunity for artists to use their 'exceptional' status of 'getting to have it both ways' in support of those who do not. Having it both ways means being able to dissent and get paid. We believe that everyone should get to have it both ways—and until everyone does, the right to exceptionality will remain our demand.
If you are interested in withholding content from the 2019 Whitney Biennial using WAGENCY, please contact W.A.G.E. directly: email@example.com. All correspondence will be kept confidential. Biennial artists will receive free access to WAGENCY for the duration of the exhibition.
Below is an example of what a Fee Request sent through WAGENCY would look like to recipients at the Whitney Museum. If the Fee Request's terms are not 'approved' or the recipient chooses to 'negotiate' them down, the sender/WAGENT can choose to withhold content in response. Fee Requests are sent to recipients from W.A.G.E. on behalf of WAGENTS. For more information about how WAGENCY works, please click here.
W.A.G.E. contributed an electronic direct action to the 3rd Anti-Columbus Day Tour, an annual effort led by Decolonize This Place to decolonize the American Museum of Natural History. Using WAGENCY, W.A.G.E. drafted and sent a Fee Request for $383 million to Ellen V. Futter, President of the AMNH as well as to other museum staff. This symbolic action was intended to call attention to the AMNH's prioritizing of capital investment over the urgent need to decolonize its holdings. Click here to view the Fee Request.
For 10 years W.A.G.E. has agitated around a single demand. We call for nonprofit art institutions to pay artists for the work they contract us to do. While our campaign could be summed up as an epic act of durational performance, it might likewise be written off as an inconsequential adjustment to an industry in need of total structural reform. It is neither, because W.A.G.E. is not an artwork and any truly inconsequential adjustment wouldn’t have taken a decade to make.
Our demand has never been for a wage – it has been for fees, and it follows in the tradition of artists organizing around remuneration for cultural work in the United States that dates back to the 1930s. We see the contemporary fight for non-wage compensation as part of a wider struggle by all gig workers who supply content without payment standards or an effective means to organize.
An artist fee is just a price for labor. It does not and cannot account for the time or materials involved in making art. We define it as the expected remuneration for an artist’s temporary transactional relationship with an institution to provide content. The fee is not for the work of producing content and it isn’t for the content itself – it is for its provision. It is for the work of working with an institution.
A W.A.G.E. fee is a price for labor that has been set by workers. We chose to set our own prices because there were none, and we introduced W.A.G.E. Certification as a tool that institutions could use to self-regulate because we work in an unregulated industry that works hard for deregulated capitalism.
It turns out that an industry organized around profiting from unpaid labor requires more than a certification program to keep it in line – it requires artists to mobilize together as a workforce. WAGENCY is how we propose to collectivize our leverage and self-organize around the demand to be paid. We built WAGENCY for artists who need to earn money in order to survive, and who refuse to support a multi-billion dollar industry through their exploitation by it.
WAGENCY is a transactional platform that facilitates the fair remuneration of artists' labor in the nonprofit sector. It supplies artists with digital tools and the necessary collective agency to negotiate W.A.G.E. fees or withhold content from institutions when they refuse to pay according to W.A.G.E. standards. Instead of a coordinated strike mechanism, WAGENCY enables a matrix of individual boycotts that can and will happen at any given time. It is decentralized, worker-driven, and designed to give artists of varying means maximum agency in altering the industry’s conditions of exchange.
W.A.G.E. agitates for the wholesale redistribution of resources within the art industry and proposes forms of union building based on individual self-organization grounded in collective struggle that must take place laterally across class. The demand to be paid is a political one. JOIN WAGENCY.
In conjunction with the arrival of WAGENCY, we have made some revisions to the W.A.G.E. Fee Schedule, including the addition of a new category. These changes are intended to bring greater nuance to categories related to public programming and to make it easier for small- to mid-sized institutions to pay W.A.G.E. Fees. While in some categories the minimums fees have been reduced, using WAGENCY, artists can now request and negotiate fees above the minimum rates required rates for certification.
Join us for drinks, performances, and dance to celebrate 10 years of W.A.G.E RAGE and the official launch of WAGENCY!
Malik Gaines & Alexandro
Segade Keijaun Thomas
Live WAGENCY demo!
DJ JD Samson!
W.A.G.E. T-Shirt Screening Station: BYOT or get one from us!
W.A.G.E. Wo/manifesto posters!
Signed copies of Andrea Fraser's 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics!
W.A.G.E. Certification was initiated in the absence of government regulation and with the understanding that the nonprofit sector is not capable of regulating itself. In 2008 when W.A.G.E. was founded, non-payment was an industry standard. Ten years later, paying artists for their labor is finally becoming standard practice, but at the museum level how much to pay and who gets to determine it are contentious issues.
Museums have until now resisted following the guidelines and standards introduced by W.A.G.E., preferring instead to internally determine their own. Yet the choice by museums to independently formulate prescriptions for equity without accountability or transparency should not be mistaken for self-regulation. Self-regulation turns out to be collective work – in order for conditions to change, institutions must adopt and commit to using shared standards. In other words, standards don’t mean much without standardization.
This is why the decision by the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania to become the first W.A.G.E. Certified museum is so significant. It demonstrates that a museum is capable of meeting external payment standards, and more importantly that those standards can be set by workers. In practice it means that the ICA Philadelphia will pay fees according to a minimum schedule determined by its operating expenses of $4.8 million in fiscal year 2018.
W.A.G.E. fees are calculated using a simple equation. The higher an institution’s total annual operating expenses, the higher the fee. Our model ties artist fees to these costs because they are the financial articulation of an institution’s priorities. After all, if it is the work of artists that the work of the institution is organized around, then its operating costs are an appropriate measure against which to determine the relative value of artists’ labor.
ICA Philadelphia staff reached out to W.A.G.E. almost exactly a year ago and we have worked closely together since then to complete this certification. Now that it’s done, it’s up to the museum to track all fee payments and remain compliant by ensuring they meet W.A.G.E.'s minimum standards. Each time an institution makes the decision to publicly adhere to these standards it joins a group of others that have done the same – collectively these institutions are turning standards into standardization. No institutions without artists. No standards without standardization.
One of W.A.G.E. Certification’s cardinal rules is that we don’t certify single exhibitions. We certify whole institutions for a minimum of one year because we believe that the commitment to paying artists for the provision of content acknowledges the relationship between artists and nonprofit institutions as being one of labor and not charity, and that it must be consistent in order to be taken seriously.
However, because museums have demonstrated the greatest resistance to W.A.G.E. Certification, despite evidence that many are now using its payment standards, we have chosen to bend this rule and approach the reform of large art institutions brick by brick. Like last year’s certification of Open Space, a department of SFMOMA, we wish to again demonstrate that where there is political will within museums by determined institutional actors, it can be done.
That’s why the 57th edition of the Carnegie International has just been W.A.G.E. Certified. The Carnegie International was founded in 1896 and as a museum-backed art event mounted every five years, it occupies a unique position. Like other historically grounded exhibitions in the Global North such as documenta or the Whitney Biennial, the Carnegie International involves years of careful planning, negotiation, and curatorial consideration, all of which produce great anticipation in the field about who will be included and why. Once announced, the exhibition impacts programmatic decision-making and art collecting patterns globally for years to come.
The Carnegie Museum’s annual operating expenses far exceed $5 million. This means that according to W.A.G.E. standards, each participating artist in the Carnegie International will receive a fee of at least $1,500, regardless of whether or not their inclusion in the exhibition increases the possibility of a future financial return. As the International's curator Ingrid Schaffner notes, this amount “is not proportional to the scale of the work, fame of the artist, or group.”
While this may sound relatively inconsequential, it isn’t. The decision by the Carnegie International to guarantee evenly distributed remuneration is a rebuke of speculation as a form of payment in the nonprofit sector. It is also an affirmation of art’s value as a common good – one to which both the labor of artists and institutions contribute, and which both must collectively work to maintain.
Congratulations to the 57th edition of the Carnegie International!
Self-regulation isn’t easy—in fact, it’s a lot of work.
But in the absence of any standards for artist compensation at the city, state or federal levels, making the demand to be paid and the choice to remunerate are the only options for both artists and the institutions that contract our labor.
The introduction of payment standards through W.A.G.E. Certification was itself an act of self-regulation, and getting art institutions to respond in kind has been our task since then.
How W.A.G.E. has approached regulating the unregulated is a matter of strategy. Like any labor campaign it has involved sustained agitation and repetition of the same refrain. But given the art field’s reputation economy it has also involved holding institutions to material account for the moral and political claims they make about their work and the public good its execution serves.
We recognize that choosing to get W.A.G.E. Certified is a big step for an institution, also requiring the work of first re-conceiving what constitutes labor and then either raising or redistributing money to pay for it.
Overseeing the compliance of over 40 institutions is also labor intensive for us, especially in the dead of summer! It has become a job too big for a person and an Excel spreadsheet—so we automated it. W.A.G.E. Certification now:
Automation adds precision, security, and convenience. It also introduces administrative coercion as a strategy in our campaign: the easier we make it for institutions to pay artists, the harder it will be for them not to.
This is the first in a series of new initiatives introduced on our NEW WEBSITE. Soon we'll add WAGENCY, a coalition and sister certification program for artists, followed by an updated and modular version of Seth Siegelaub’s The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement on Blockchain.
These tools are intended for use not only by artists but by any and all who are invested in W.A.G.E.’s mission: to establish sustainable economic relationships between artists and the institutions that contract our work, and to introduce mechanisms for self-regulation into the art field that collectively bring about a more equitable distribution of its economy.
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 $75 per artist, or 50% of $150. If an artist is required to install their work each time the exhibition is mounted, the host institution must pay the artist using the Day Rate for Performers category in this schedule, in addition to covering travel and accommodation expenses.
Solo Screening with In-Person Appearance is 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. If an artist self-distributes their work, rates are negotiated between artist and institution. W.A.G.E. recommends a minimum rental fee of $250 per feature and $75 per short film. 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.
A single event with two or more artists. This may take the form of a presentation of discrete works including but not limited to performance, screening, or reading, or it may be a panel discussion.
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 itemized and agreed upon by both artist and institution.
The delivery of a new keynote presentation or a new lecture by an artist. Criteria for what constitutes new content must be negotiated between artist and institution.
Day Rate for Performers are fees paid to performers participating in commissioned and existing performances created by the Contracted Artist. Fees are paid to performers directly by the organization. ‘Performers’ include all persons who may be understood as performers, whether called Facilitators, Re-performers, Caretakers or other. 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. Day Rate for Performers at institutions with operating expenses up to $5,000,000 is $25/hour or $125/Day, whichever is higher. Day Rate for Performers at institutions with operating expenses over $5,000,000 is $50/hr or $200/day, whichever is higher. In some cases this category may also be used to contract other forms of temporary waged labor not covered by this schedule.