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W.A.G.E. Writes Open Letter to the New Museum

New York-based artist advocacy group W.A.G.E.—Working Artists and the Greater Economy—has issued an open letter to the New Museum regarding the announcement of its new expansion project. In the letter, the group urges the museum to become W.A.G.E. certified in order to ensure that artists are properly compensated.

W.A.G.E.’s certification program is voluntary and was conceived to guarantee artists working in the nonprofit sector fair pay and organizational support. According to the group, becoming certified would be a sign of an organization’s commitment to operate ethically with the artists they work with.

The museum announced last week that it had raised $43 million toward an $80 million capital campaign it launched in celebration of its fortieth anniversary and its tenth year on the Bowery, as previously reported by artforum.com. The fundraising efforts will be used to increase the museum’s endowment, and to renovate an adjacent property, which will double the museum’s exhibition space. For W.A.G.E., this also means the institution will double the amount of artists they will have to pay.

In the letter, the group offers its congratulations. It also informs the museum that had it been certified in the 2014 fiscal year the institution would have paid $301,000 to 184 artists, sixteen of whom participated in exhibitions and 168 of which were involved in programming. For the museum, this sum is the equivalent of 0.7 percent of the $43 million it has just raised. It is also almost exactly half of the salary of the museum’s highest paid employee.

This isn’t the first time that W.A.G.E. has written to the museum. In 2010, the group issued an “intervention” letter that was concerned about the institution’s “strategic waste of funds,” “belligerent disregard for ethics,” and engagement in a “public-private partnership of insider trading.”

The group’s most recent letter reads: “Today we write to you again with a simple suggestion. We are confident of your openness to it since your director Lisa Phillips was just quoted as saying that the expansion is ‘about trying to do things that museums haven't done yet or maybe even imagined.’ We suggest that you imagine becoming the first W.A.G.E. certified museum.”

W.A.G.E. signs off with “We’re here whenever you’re ready.”

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