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 solidarity union and certification program 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.

How It Works

WAGENCY is a solidarity union for artists. With the active participation of its membership, WAGENCY facilitates the fair remuneration of artists' labor in the nonprofit sector.


WAGENCY is also a certification program. It certifies members when they successfully negotiate fees or withhold content when institutions 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.


WAGENTS are assigned a nontransferable membership number and digital signature, and may choose to be listed publicly by name or anonymously by number. Follow a simple 5-step process to increase your bargaining power with institutions and build collective strength together with other artists.

1. Search For An Institution

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.


Tip: When you search an institution listed on the W.A.G.E. Fee Calculator, your search calls up its most recent 990 and keeps the calculator's data current..

Click the 'read more' tab below to view an example of an institution search using the Whitney Museum of American Art.


2. Make A Fee Schedule 

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 and give a Commissioned Talk, the schedule will list these, and other forms of content, along with their minimum costs according to W.A.G.E. standards. 

Click the 'read more' tab below to view an example of a minimum Fee Schedule for the Whitney Museum of American Art.


3. Send a Fee Request

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 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 email exchanges. Correspondence between WAGENTS and institutions is private and confidential.

Click the 'read more' tab below to view an example of a draft Fee Request for the Whitney Museum of American Art.


4. Get Certified or Negotiate

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 the institution APPROVES, W.A.G.E. fees will have been secured and you 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 choose to be listed publicly by name or anonymously by number, and WAGENT signatures, intended to be placed on your website, are dynamic SVG files 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. Payment guidelines for assistant labor can be found here.

Click the 'read more' tab below to view an example of what a Fee Request looks like to the recipient.


5. Request Payment

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.

Studio Assistant Labor

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 guidelines for compensating artist assistants equitably. Please note that W.A.G.E. has developed a new work agreement for freelance artist assistants which will be made available soon. WAGENCY no longer requires certified WAGENTS to use a W.A.G.E. work agreement when engaging assistant labor.


WAGENCY is a subscription-based program that costs $5 a month to use. Subscription revenue directly supports W.A.G.E.’s work as an independent organizing body and covers the annual cost of accessing the public tax records of thousands of nonprofit institutions through GuideStar. Join WAGENCY and 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. Click here to register as a WAGENT.


I don’t live in the United States and I'm not a U.S. citizen. Can I become a WAGENT and use 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.


I'm not an artist but art institutions contract me to provide content for their programs. Can I become a WAGENT and use WAGENCY?

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.


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 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


What if the program I have been contracted to do doesn't fit into W.A.G.E.'s 15 fee categories?

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: wagency@wageforwork.com.


What services do I get by joining WAGENCY?

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. 


How much does it cost to join WAGENCY?

It costs $5 USD/month.


What kind of payments do you accept?

PayPal and most credit and debit cards, including Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover, JCB, and Diner’s Club.


Do I get paid through WAGENCY?

No. No financial transactions take place through the platform.


Can I send Fee Requests to institutions outside the United States?

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.


Can I send Fee Requests to commercial galleries?

No. WAGENCY is for negotiation between artists and nonprofit art institutions.


Can I send Fee Requests to W.A.G.E. Certified 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.


Can I send Fee Requests that are higher than W.A.G.E. standards?

Yes! And we encourage you to do so. 

Can I send Fee Requests that are lower than W.A.G.E. standards?

No. WAGENTS are required to begin by requesting W.A.G.E. fees. 


What happens if the institution declines to pay me 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.


If I’m a Certified WAGENT and an institution declines my Fee Request but I agree to work with them at a rate that is below W.A.G.E. standards, will I still be certified?

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.


Will I lose my WAGENT status if I accept a payment below W.A.G.E. standards?

No. You will always be a WAGENT as long as you continue to be a member of WAGENCY.


How will other people know if my WAGENT status has changed?

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.


Can anyone else see my correspondence with institutions?

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.


Is W.A.G.E. tracking and using my data?

W.A.G.E. is keeping track of transactions in order to understand how WAGENCY is impacting the field and to make those insights available to users. This will include the number of times WAGENTS withhold labor; the mean number of payments above and below W.A.G.E. standards; and the average amount of time it takes WAGENTS to receive payment. All data is aggregated, fully anonymized, and will be made available to members on a regular basis. We have made every effort to make WAGENCY GDPR compliant, please read our Privacy Policy and User Agreement.