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? W.A.G.E. Certification was launched in 2014, but since 2008 we have been collecting data, writing texts and letters, making speeches, videos and graphics, conducting research, teaching and lecturing. Find 10 years of W.A.G.E.'s ongoing work and other resources 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? 58
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.
Does W.A.G.E. address the commercial art market? W.A.G.E. is working on an updated and modular version of Seth Siegelaub’s The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement on blockchain.
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.
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.
A very special thank you to Daniel Sauter, as well as to Anthony Davies, Sage Donahue, Emma Hedditch, Victoria Ivanova, Suhail Malik, Marina Vishmidt, and Tirdad Zolghadr for their contributions to policy development, and to the many artists whose input has shaped and inspired WAGENCY over the years - you know who you are.
Malik Gaines & Alexandro
Segade Keijaun Thomas
DJ JD Samson!
W.A.G.E. T-Shirt Station I 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!
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.