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T-shirt made at a W.A.G.E. workshop at Bard College. Photo: Katerina Llanes.

W.A.G.E. Introduces Fee Calculator to Help Artists Negotiate Fair Pay

The New York-based arts advocacy group W.A.G.E., or Working Artists and the Greater Economy, has introduced a new “WAGENCY” calculator to help artists calculate fair minimum payments for their labor.

With a monthly subscription of $5, artists can use the service to search W.A.G.E.’s database and negotiate work contracts and individual boycotts based on W.A.G.E.–certified fees, which are calculated from an institution’s annual operating expenses from public tax records. Artists can search for an institution, generate a fee schedule based on the service being provided (solo exhibition, lecture, artist talk, etc.), and send a fee request email to begin a contract negotiation. 

WAGENCY also certifies institutions that successfully pay W.A.G.E.–approved fees. They must also pay on time, in compliance with New York state’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which went into effect on May 15, 2017, to ensure timely and full payment for freelance workers. Certified institutions include Artists Space, Blank Forms, Eyebeam, Light Industry, Recess, Swiss Institute, Triple Canopy, and Yale Union. Artists, or “WAGENTs,” can also get certified if they commit to accepting fair fees as calculated by the advocacy organization. 

“Artists are contracted workers,” WAGENCY states in its mission statement. “We supply content and produce value in the gig economy just like millions of others . . . 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.”

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