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 provides working artists of varying means with the necessary collective agency to negotiate compensation according to W.A.G.E. standards. 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, ability 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 is a solidarity union for artists, art workers, and anyone participating in the art system looking to collectivize their leverage. WAGENCY is also a platform for transacting artists' labor. Its capacity to secure compensation at W.A.G.E. standards depends on the active and sustained participation of its membership. There are two ways to participate:
You'll receive a membership number and dynamic SVG logo identifying you as a WAGENT. Displaying your digital badge in email correspondence or on a website signals your alignment with W.A.G.E. standards and increases your individual leverage in negotiating compensation. But because there is power in numbers — and in the art world, in names — your WAGENT number, name, city, and country will be publicly listed alongside thousands of others. Joining WAGENCY is free.
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 or higher, you'll need to know its total annual operating expenses.
WAGENCY provides access to a searchable database containing this number as well as other key information from the most recent publicly available tax records of thousands of nonprofits across the U.S. Using this information, you can instantly generate a customized W.A.G.E. fee schedule and send a Fee Request as a PDF attachment to a contracting institution. Once received, you can negotiate compensation and request payment, all with W.A.G.E. in CC to increase your leverage and provide support if needed.
Subscribing to WAGENCY costs USD $5 per month. Even if you don’t need to use it right now, revenue directly supports W.A.G.E.’s work as an independent organizing body. Think of a subscription as monthly dues.
Dear Scott Rothkopf,
W.A.G.E. has sent the attached Fee Request on behalf of Jeff Koons, an artist who uses WAGENCY to transact their labor. They are cc’d on this message. Once you have reviewed the attached PDF and are ready to respond, please keep W.A.G.E. in cc by replying-all.
Fee Requests and email exchanges are private and confidential. W.A.G.E. does not actively monitor correspondence between WAGENTS and institutions. Should either party need assistance, please send a separate email with HELP in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A solidarity union, or solidarity unionism, is a labor organizing model dating back to the early 20th century in which workers themselves determine strategy and take action directly without mediation from government bodies or paid union representatives. It is defined by three primary characteristics: rank and file control; direct action; and members carrying their union membership with them when they move to another job.
WAGENCY was conceived by artists and art workers in response to the particular conditions of non-payment in the art system. It was also intended as a means of enlisting others in the work of pressuring un-certified institutions to pay fees meeting W.A.G.E. standards. Even though WAGENCY's primary mechanisms weren't intentionally designed to align with solidarity unionism's core principles we are proud they do.
Rank and file control: WAGENCY is a tool for self-organization grounded in collective mobilization. Its power lies in the commitment of its members to request W.A.G.E. fees, and whenever possible to withhold labor from institutions that decline to pay according to W.A.G.E. standards.
Direct action: Each time a WAGENT sends a Fee Request (aka a demand) for W.A.G.E. fees or withholds labor when not paid them, they engage in direct action. The pressure these individual acts apply over the long term is the work artists must do collectively to eradicate conditions of non-payment.
Portable membership: Artists are rarely contracted by the same institution more than once and instead move from contract to contract, gig to gig. With the exception of group exhibitions and some events, artists also rarely share the same employer at the same time. WAGENCY membership isn't tied to an employer or contracting institution. WAGENTS remain members for as long as they choose and can use WAGENCY to make demands of and negotiate with any nonprofit institution in the U.S.
Yes. You can become a WAGENT and use WAGENCY, but only when you work with an institution based in the U.S. 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 to use WAGENCY to work with W.A.G.E. Certified institutions since they already pay W.A.G.E. fees, but they can. 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: email@example.com.
Using WAGENCY costs USD $5/month. Joining WAGENCY is free.
Most credit and debit cards.
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.
2) Continue to negotiate until you reach an agreement.
Only W.A.G.E. can see your correspondence and we will only view it if you request help.