Minimum payment standards for artists' labor have never been established by government at the city, state or federal level — that task has been left to us. In the absence of state oversight, W.A.G.E. introduces mechanisms for self-regulation into the contemporary art field that provide both artists and institutions with the means to collectively bring about a more equitable distribution of its economy.
WAGENCY is a transactional platform that provides working artists of varying means with the necessary collective agency to negotiate compensation or withhold content from the nonprofit institutions that contract our labor. 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.
Artists are contracted workers. We supply content and produce value in the gig economy just like millions of others. When we enter into temporary transactional relationships with institutions we are content providers but that doesn't diminish the content of our work. It has nothing to do with what we make because payment is not for the content itself — it is for its provision. It is for the work of working with an institution.
When we work with public institutions we can expect to be compensated for our labor and paid according to the only standards the sector has: W.A.G.E. standards. When we willingly go unpaid we not only exploit ourselves, we exploit each other. When we participate in a race to the bottom we deny the participation of those who can't afford to work for free. It is because the exploitation of human labor originates from and holds in place race, gender, and class-based forms of oppression and dispossession that it must be challenged. WAGENCY is how we propose to organize an unpaid workforce in an unregulated field.
WAGENCY facilitates the transaction and 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 art institutions when they decline 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. Follow a simple 5-step process to increase your bargaining power with institutions and build collective strength together with other artists.
W.A.G.E. fees are calculated using a simple equation: the higher an institution’s expenses, the higher the fee. If you have been engaged by a nonprofit institution to provide content and want to be paid according to W.A.G.E. standards, you'll need to know its total annual operating expenses. WAGENCY grants access to a database containing this and other information from the public tax records of thousands of nonprofits across the U.S. W.A.G.E. is a licensed user of GuideStar, the world's largest source of information about nonprofit organizations.
Instantly generate a customized fee schedule for W.A.G.E. fees in 15 categories and use it to determine the total cost of your labor. For example, if an institution has invited you to have a Solo Exhibition, give a Lecture, and do an Artist Talk, the schedule will list these, and other forms of content, along with their costs according to W.A.G.E. standards.
WAGENTS don't wait for institutions to offer arbitrary fees. Instead, WAGENTS determine the cost of their own labor and request W.A.G.E. fees through WAGENCY. Fee Requests are dynamic, fillable forms set on W.A.G.E. letterhead that are sent from W.A.G.E. to any email address on your behalf. Fee Requests initiate a process of negotiation that can take place online in real-time or through a series of exchanges. Correspondence between WAGENTS and institutions is private and confidential. To view an example of a draft Fee Request, click here.
WAGENCY is also a certification program. It certifies WAGENTS when they successfully secure W.A.G.E. fees or withhold labor when not paid them. When WAGENTS are willing and able to leverage their social, cultural, or economic capital to pressure institutions, they build leverage for those who may not be in a position to turn down work. Negotiating your terms of engagement begins once your contact at the institution receives a Fee Request from W.A.G.E. sent on your behalf. Once received, they will have two options:
(1) If your request is APPROVED, W.A.G.E. fees will have been secured and you will become a Certified WAGENT.
(2) If the institution chooses to NEGOTIATE and makes a counteroffer, there are three possible outcomes:
(i) The institution makes a counteroffer above W.A.G.E. standards. You accept and become a Certified WAGENT.
(ii) The institution makes a counteroffer below W.A.G.E. standards. You decline and become a Certified WAGENT.
(iii) You choose to negotiate below W.A.G.E. standards and secure compensation. You remain an active WAGENT.
WAGENCY allows you to oscillate between being certified and uncertified and welcomes all forms of participation. WAGENTS are publicly listed and WAGENT signatures are dynamic SVG files (pictured below) that always reflect your current status. As long as you continue to secure W.A.G.E. fees or withhold labor when not paid them, you will be listed as certified. Please note that Certified WAGENTS have an additional responsibility. They are required to pay equitably those who contribute to producing the content of their work – their studio assistants. New payment guidelines and a WAGENCY Work Agreement for assistant labor can be found here.
No financial transactions take place through WAGENCY but you can request and record payments, and send reminders to institutions if payment is overdue. As long as you enter the program's start date in a Fee Request, WAGENCY will alert you if payment hasn't been recorded within 30 days of completing the work and prompt you to send a payment request. This timeframe complies with the Freelance Isn’t Free Act which protects freelance workers from non-payment and protracted or reduced payment by New York City businesses.
When artists hire others to help produce their work, they function in a similar capacity to contracting institutions and are just as prone to exploiting workers. WAGENCY includes new guidelines for compensating artist assistants equitably and offers a customizable Work Agreement designed to help employing artists and their assistants determine a set of comprehensive and equitable terms upon which to engage in a working relationship. The WAGENCY Work Agreement can be initiated by assistants or employing artists.
WAGENCY's capacity to eradicate conditions of non-payment depends on the active and sustained participation of its membership. WAGENCY is a subscription-based program that costs $5 a month to use. When you join WAGENCY you’ll receive a dynamic SVG logo and nontransferable membership number that will remain yours whether or not you continue to be an active WAGENT. When you transact your labor through WAGENCY you share in the work of shifting the industry away from a dependence on unpaid labor and toward economic sustainability for those whose work it is organized around. W.A.G.E. agitates for the wholesale redistribution of resources within the contemporary art economy 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.
Yes. You can become a WAGENT and use WAGENCY, but only when you work with an institution based in the United States. However, displaying your WAGENT number and SVG logo when you transact your labor with institutions outside the U.S. might increase your leverage in negotiating a better deal with them.
Yes. Anyone who provides content for the programs of nonprofit art institutions can be a WAGENT and use WAGENCY to transact their labor. Whether you are an activist, actor, choreographer, critic, curator, dancer, filmmaker, historian, musician, painter, performer, poet, sculptor, social practitioner, writer, or something else, when you provide content that fits within W.A.G.E.'s 15 Fee Categories, you are an artist. These 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. WAGENCY is an effort to enforce their standardization across the sector. If you are a freelance worker who provides services for which there are existing industry standards, such as a teaching artist, graphic designer, lighting designer, or exhibition furniture fabricator, for example, you cannot use WAGENCY to transact your labor.
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 minimum payment standards. Artists don't need WAGENCY to work with W.A.G.E. Certified institutions since they already pay W.A.G.E. fees. A current list of W.A.G.E. Certified institutions can be found here.
This is a very common issue for W.A.G.E. Certified institutions as well and there is always a solution. Please contact W.A.G.E. directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once a WAGENT, you'll receive a nontransferable membership number and dynamic SVG logo for identifying yourself as a member. You'll gain access to a database containing the total annual operating expenses of thousands of nonprofit institutions across the United States. Using this data, you can instantly generate minimum schedules for W.A.G.E. fees, determine the total cost of your labor, send Fee Requests through the platform directly to contracting institutions, negotiate compensation, and request payment. If you are an artist who employs assistant labor or an artist who works as an assistant, you can use the WAGENCY Work Agreement to establish a set of equitable terms on which to engage in a working relationship.
It costs $5 USD/month.
PayPal and most credit and debit cards, including Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, JCB, and Diner’s Club.
No. No financial transactions take place through the platform.
If the institution is a nonprofit registered in the U.S. but located elsewhere you can, but otherwise, WAGENCY is for now limited to institutions based in the U.S.
No. WAGENCY is for negotiation between artists and nonprofit art institutions.
Yes. The fees of W.A.G.E. Certified institutions are determined by their projected current annual operating expenses and are pulled from information submitted to W.A.G.E. each fiscal year.
Yes! And we encourage you to do so.
No. WAGENTS are required to begin by requesting W.A.G.E. fees.
You have two choices:
1) Decline to work with the contracting institution and become a Certified WAGENT.
2) Continue to negotiate until you reach an agreement. Your status as a WAGENT will not change.
No. Once you negotiate at a lower rate you will no longer be certified, but the next time you negotiate W.A.G.E. fees or decline to work with an institution that won't pay W.A.G.E. fees you'll become certified again. In other words, you're only as good as your last transaction.
No. You will always be a WAGENT as long as you continue to be a member of WAGENCY.
Your WAGENT logo is a dynamic SVG file that always reflects your current status: as long as you continue to negotiate W.A.G.E. fees or withhold labor when not paid them, you will be listed as certified. The logo will display a checkmark when you're certified and no checkmark when you are not.
No. Your correspondence is intended to be private and confidential, but like a Google Doc, anyone with the link can view it. W.A.G.E. does not monitor negotiations but the platform keeps a record that can be accessed by W.A.G.E. if necessary.
Only Certified WAGENTS are obliged to adhere to W.A.G.E. standards for assistant labor, but if a WAGENT initiates a WAGENCY Work Agreement with you, we recommend that you use it. The purpose of WAGENCY is to give artists maximum agency in bringing about a more equitable and transparent distribution of art's economy, and that includes the labor relation between artists.