W.A.G.E. Certification is a program initiated and operated by Working Artists and the Greater Economy that publicly recognizes non-profit arts organizations demonstrating a history of, and commitment to, voluntarily paying artist fees that meet a minimum payment standard.
Its specific goal is to establish and guarantee standards of minimum compensation and organizational support for artists in the non-profit arts economy. Its broader goal is to work toward the fairer and more equitable distribution of resources in the contemporary art field and in society at large.
W.A.G.E. Certification is a voluntary program. Organizations choosing to be certified have made a commitment to operate ethically in relation to artists and wish to have this commitment acknowledged by their communities. A W.A.G.E. Certified organization signals that it stands in solidarity with artists as part of an equitable community no matter what their material practice or reputation might be.
The U.S. non-profit arts sector is a robust economy involving thousands of tax-exempt organizations that range in size from small artist-run spaces struggling to support a single employee to large institutions with thousands of full-time workers, annual operating budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and top salaries in the seven figures. Many were founded to support living artists and have enshrined this goal in the mission statements that define the charitable purpose on which their non-profit status depends.
Among all the professionals who participate in this economy, artists are often alone among those whose contributions go uncompensated. While many non-profit arts organizations provide fees to artists for some forms of participation, fees are rarely provided for the most basic contributions artists make. Exhibition budgets include compensation for curators, writers, insurers, shippers, designers, printers, preparators, caterers and event organizers, among many others, but rarely for the artists on whom the exhibition itself depends.
Artist compensation has never been mandated by city, state, or national legislation, by government agencies or by the private foundations that provide financial support to non-profits through the grant making process. The result is a sector in which participation is often unsustainable for the very people its organizations were created to support.
W.A.G.E. Certification was initiated in 2010 in response to these conditions and was developed by artists in dialog with local and international organizations. It was established as a policy in January 2014 at the 2014 W.A.G.E. Summit, and launched in October.