The payment of artist fees by New York-based non-profit arts organizations has never been mandated by city, state, or national legislation, nor has it been enforced by the government agencies and private foundations which provide financial support to non-profits through the grant making process. Non-profit arts organizations dispense artist fees and exhibition support according to an honor system that is inconsistent with the many other regulatory standards by which the activities of non-profit organizations are measured.
While fees and the costs incurred by artists in mounting exhibitions are often included in the proposed budgets that non-profits submit to grant makers with their requests for funding, there currently exists no means of verifying that artists in fact receive the funds that have been earmarked for them. Without any checks or balances between artists and institutions, and between institutions and their funders, this system functions, at best, inconsistently, and at worst, punitively, inequitably and unethically.
W.A.G.E. advocates for implementation, regulation and enforcement of ethical payment practices. We recognize the challenges inherent in realizing this goal, including the art market's dependence on an unregulated and unaccountable 'free-market' system, as well as the politically entrenched resistance to regulation and oversight of these markets.
In 2010, W.A.G.E. initiated a Certification program that recognizes non-profits that follow an advised 'best-practices' model and demonstrate a history of, and commitment to, paying artist fees that meet a minimum payment standard. W.A.G.E. Certification is a voluntary program. Organizations choosing to be certified are those that have made a commitment to operate ethically in relation to artists and wish to have this commitment acknowledged by their community.
W.A.G.E. Certification signals to artists not only a guarantee that they will be compensated for their work, but also that the arts organization stands in solidarity with them as part of an equitable community, no matter their speculative value or material practice. Beyond strengthening the relationship between artists and institutions, W.A.G.E. Certification sends a strong signal to other organizations that the practice of non-payment is neither acceptable, nor inevitable.
W.A.G.E. Certification is currently being developed into a comprehensive policy, but its core principles can be found here