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This Online Calculator Helps Artists Demand Fair Pay

‘The demand to be paid is a political one,’ says campaigning organization W.A.G.E.

Adriaen van Ostade, Selfportrait, 1663. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Adriaen van Ostade, Selfportrait, 1663. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Adriaen van Ostade, Selfportrait, 1663. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E), the New York-based organization which campaigns for fair compensation for US artists’s work, has released a new online tool WAGENCY.

The WAGENCY calculator can be used by artists to negotiate ‘transaction and fair remuneration’ for different types of work – from exhibitions to teaching – at thousands of US non-profits. Artists can now register as ‘WAGENTS’ with the system, which requires a monthly subscription of USD$5.

Instead of waiting for institutions ‘to offer arbitrary fees’, the calculator allows artists to request W.A.G.E.-certified fees, which are premised on a given institution’s annual operating expenses (the higher the expenses, the higher the fee). Artists can choose whether to accept or negotiate a fee offer from an institution – those who commit to only working for their original fee are classified as ‘certified WAGENTs’.

‘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,’ W.A.G.E. said in a statement. In the absence of federal or local regulation for minimum payment for artists’s work, W.A.G.E. characterizes the digital tool as one that helps ‘to organize an unpaid workforce in an unregulated field.’

W.A.G.E. organizer Lise Soskolne told Artnet that before WAGENCY’s release, ‘Institutions would offer fees if you’re lucky. But what we’re trying to do is assert that artists are contracted workers, and contracted workers have rates.’ Soskolne described WAGENCY as a ‘pressure mechanism’, which through mass adoption, could effect mass change in the nonprofit art field.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia became the first museum to be certified by W.A.G.E. earlier this year, committing to fair compensation for artists commissions. ‘Our partnership with W.A.G.E. helps to set a new standard in the museum field, one that ensures equitable environments for the artists with whom we work,’ ICA director Amy Sadao said.

Don’t miss our frieze profile of W.A.G.E.’s struggle for fairer pay for artists: ‘Artists need to learn to value their work from the point at which they enter the sector,’ Soskolne told us in 2015. ‘If you don’t have a minimum, you have no place to start from – and, therefore, no place to go.’

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