In October 2019, W.A.G.E. commissioned The Cornell University Survey Research Institute to produce a report analyzing data provided by W.A.G.E. Certified art institutions during W.A.G.E. Certification's first 5 years of operation. The W.A.G.E data set includes payment records from between December 6th, 2013 and November 16th, 2019. During this time period, a total of $5,557,516 was paid out in artist fees through 6,970 transactions.
The Cornell Survey Research Institute's (SRI) approach to the analysis was informed by a set of broader questions posed by W.A.G.E. about how the redistribution of resources has impacted both the artists and institutions who have participated, and whether as a model, W.A.G.E. Certification has worked for the complexity of the field. There are three levels of analysis available on this page. Please scroll down or click on the following links:
2) A Narrative Analysis by W.A.G.E. of SRI's key findings.
3) A Report Summary of SRI's findings without data visualization or narrative analysis.
The last section, About The Data, covers how the data was gathered, what data is missing and why, and an FAQ of relevant data points.
Read and download SRI's full report as a PDF document here.
This section provides a narrative analysis by W.A.G.E. of the report's key findings. Divided into four sets of questions, the answers synthesize the analysis provided by The Cornell University Survey Research Institute.
Have W.A.G.E.’s minimum standards become industry standards or are they functioning as intended – as minimums only? Did the introduction of minimum standards lower fees overall, adversely impacting the ability of some artists to command more? Did W.A.G.E. fees drive down the higher compensation of a few, but raise the lower (and non-) compensation of many?
With 69% of all payments having exceeded the minimum fee, we can conclude that W.A.G.E. fees have not lowered compensation overall.
This is reinforced by payment discrepancies found in group exhibitions. In the category Group Exhibition, 3-5 Artists, fee discrepancies registered at 32%. The highest pay difference between artists was $13,600, and the average pay difference was $2,370. In the category Group Exhibition, 6+ Artists, fee discrepancies registered at 52%. The highest pay difference was $3,750, and the average pay difference was $2,370. There could be several reasons for this: some artists are still able to negotiate higher fees; institutions are choosing to pay some artists more; institutions are paying more for commissioned work than existing work.
Even though the data indicates that some artists are able to command higher fees in group exhibitions, we cannot conclude that these artists aren’t being negatively impacted by the introduction of minimums. Anecdotally, it is known that the group exhibition category can and has been used to justify paying all artists the same minimum fee, and perhaps a lower fee than could have been negotiated, especially in the context of larger institutions, and that this has impacted some artists adversely.
With so much class stratification among artists, the introduction of a minimum standard raises fundamental questions about redistribution and equity: should minimums be used to level out the unequal distribution of resources by ensuring that all artists get paid the same, thereby potentially raising rates by a modest amount, but equally and for everyone? Or is the purpose of a minimum standard to modestly benefit those who didn’t get paid before, thereby lowering a barrier to entry into the field, but still enabling those who can command more to continue doing so?
Are the W.A.G.E. model’s fixed fee categories flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of institutional forms? Are they flexible enough to accommodate contemporary artistic and curatorial practices that are chiefly invested in overturning existing programming conventions? Which fee categories are being used the most and what does that tell us about the kind of content artists are being contracted to provide?
Of the 77 institutions certified, 19 different institution types were identified, suggesting that the W.A.G.E. model is adaptable across the institutional spectrum. Of the 19, Visual Arts Presenting – what the model was designed for – is the most common, with 48 out of 77 (62%) matching this type. As such, Visual Arts Presenting institutions have made the largest number of fee payments, with 4,089 recorded.
The most widely used fee category across institution type is Event with Presentations or Performances by 2 or More Participants, with nearly 2,000 payments (26%) on record. This is followed by Group Exhibition, 6+ Artists, the only other category with over 1,000 payments (15%). Talk, Discussion or Workshop with 2 or More Participants registered over 600 payments (9%). In total, about 40% of all payments were in categories involving groups of 2 or more artists.
This data suggests that the simultaneous participation of multiple artists in a single program has been a strong trend across the institutional spectrum over the past 5 years. It may also suggest that discursive programming is increasingly common. In addition, fee sizes have increased in the Event with Presentations or Performances by 2 or More Participants and Group Exhibition, 6+ Artists categories. By combining these findings, it appears that group-based programs are not being used by institutions to pay less for programming, and that through them, more substantial fees are being distributed to a greater number of artists overall.
By adding artist compensation to an institution’s expense burden, would W.A.G.E. Certification adversely impact smaller institutions? Did W.A.G.E. Certification bring about a redistribution of resources within institutions and if so, how did it impact artists as well as other workers?
W.A.G.E. Certification does not seem to have adversely impacted smaller institutions. In fact, there appears to be an inverse relationship between institution size and the amount spent on fees. The majority (43) of W.A.G.E. Certified institutions operate with budgets under $500,000, demonstrating that small and medium sized institutions are crucial to leveling out inequity – on average, institutions with budgets under $500,000 have spent 7% of their TAOE on artist fees, while institutions with budgets between $500,000 and $1 million have spent 4% of their TAOE on artist fees. The 7 institutions with TAOEs in the $1 million – $5 million range spent an average of 2% on artist fees. This is reinforced by the fact that 10 out of 68 institutions (15%) have paid out the highest amounts in fees across all categories, and over half have operating budgets under $500,000. While these institutions only constitute 7.5% of the total, the fact of their paying higher fees, or fees on par with the largest institutions, is notable.
Because the data set is limited to artist compensation, we can’t speculate on how redistribution has impacted other workers but it remains an important question. From the outset W.A.G.E. has been concerned that by adding compensation as an expense burden, institutions would be forced to reduce the number of programs they produce annually, resulting in fewer artists earning money. Compensating artists may also have come at the expense of other workers. Without the necessary data, or data from before the launch of certification, there is no conclusive evidence of either, but both scenarios remain of concern.
Because the operating budgets of nonprofit institutions are necessarily limited by what can be raised in a given year, W.A.G.E. minimums were introduced as a compromise between what was fair and what was possible. As such, W.A.G.E fees are not living wages, but whether or not artists are receiving recurring fees across institutions is of interest, so analysis of this trend was requested. The findings were notable, with 37% of all payment records made to recurring artists, and about 18% of all artists in the data set received recurring payments. The largest number of recurring payments occurred in the Event with Presentations or Performances by 2 or More Participants category, representing 22% of recurring payments. We know that artists can’t live on fees but the fact that some are being contracted repeatedly makes it more likely that not only those who can afford to work for free will enter the field.
If W.A.G.E. Certification were to be successful in shifting the field toward sustainability by establishing industry standards, would the shift come about as a sudden tipping point, once a large museum signed on, or would it happen gradually from below, through the build-up of a coalition of small and mid-sized institutions? How is W.A.G.E. Certification being taken up and used?
Of the 68 institutions that provided data, 43 had operating budgets under $500,000, and 16 had operating budgets under $1 million. Of the $5,557,516 paid out to artists, 63% came from institutions with budgets under $500,000, and 87% came from those with operating budgets under $1 million. If this constitutes a shift in the field, it has come about through the gradual build-up of a coalition of smaller institutions – grassroots movement building at the institutional level. It appears that, just like any social movement, change happens from the bottom up.
While the number of institutions certified has significantly increased since 2014, the rate has slowed over time. A 67% increase after the first year could have been due to the newness and novelty of the program. A spike in certifications in 2017/18 may have been due to the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation's inclusion of a question in funding applications about whether applicant institutions pay W.A.G.E. fees. This suggests that funders can play an important enforcement role.
The number of consecutive years institutions have been certified is 1–6, with an average of 2.5 years. This data point excludes records for fiscal years 2019 and 2020 which are still in progess, while many re-certifications are currently pending. Institutions discontinue their certification for a variety of reasons, which have included: the institution closing; a new director choosing not to renew; the administrative burden of fee tracking; temporary use of certification to justify or paper over other kinds of policy inequities and injustices, aka W.A.G.E. Washing, an approach that may not be consistent with the long term commitment to equity suggested by the program.
This section provides a summary of the report's findings without data visualization or further analysis. The full report can be found above.
Of the total 6,398 entries, 15% of payments did not meet the minimum, but 69% exceeded it. The majority of payments for all categories either met or exceeded the minimum fee established by W.A.G.E.
Fee amounts have increased for some categories and remained relatively consistent for others. Notable increases in fee amounts are seen in the following categories:
Commissioned Text for Publication
Group Exhibition, 3-5 Artists
Group Exhibition, 6+ Artists
Performance, Commission of New Work
Talk, Discussion or Workshop with 2 or More Participants
There appears to be an inverse relationship between institution size (represented by its Total Annual Operating Expenses or TAOE), and the amount spent on artist fees. The amount spent is calculated as a percentage of the total operating budget. This trend is seen across all years.
The majority of institutions have TAOEs that do not exceed $500,000. There are 43 and in total they have produced 3,094 programs. On average, each institution in this category has produced 73 programs. This is the lowest number of programs produced on average, compared to institutions with higher TAOE ranges, yet the total fees paid out by institutions in this category is the highest overall. The total sum of TAOEs for these 43 institutions is $31.5 million and the total sum of fees paid is $2.2 million. On average, smaller institutions have spent 7% of their TAOE on artist fees.
There are 16 institutions with TAOEs in the $500,000 – $1 million range. These institutions produced the second highest number of programs. In total, these institutions produced 2,382 programs, with an average of 146 produced per institution. The total sum of TAOEs for these 16 institutions is $41.5 million and the total sum of fees paid is $1.5 million. On average, these institutions have spent 4% of their TAOE on artist fees.
There are 7 institutions with TAOEs in the $1 million – $5 million range. These institutions produced the third highest number of programs. In total, these institutions produced 1,045 programs, with an average of 160 produced per institution. The total sum of TAOEs for these 7 institutions is $54.5 million and the total sum of fees paid is $1.3 million. On average, these institutions have spent 2% of their TAOE on artist fees.
Finally, the largest institutions in terms of TAOE size, currently or previously certified by W.A.G.E, have a TAOE over $5 million. These 2 institutions produced the lowest number of programs. In total, these institutions produced 335 programs, with an average of 168 produced per institution. The total sum of TAOEs for these 2 institutions is $187.8 million and the total sum of fees paid is slightly under $300,000. On average, these institutions have spent less than 1% of their TAOE on artist fees.*
*Please note that W.A.G.E has certified two smaller entities operating within museums with very large total annual operating expenses: SFMOMA and the Carnegie Museum. The fee schedules of these entities are still determined by the museums' TAOE, but because they produce fewer programs, the total annual payout in fees is significantly smaller than what that of a fully W.A.G.E. Certified museum would be. These are 'partial' certifications made by W.A.G.E. to demonstrate that a large museum could meet W.A.G.E. standards.
The fee category most commonly produced by institutions is Event with Presentations of Performances by 2 or More Participants, with nearly 2,000 payments in this category. This is followed by Group Exhibition, 6+ Artists, the only other category with over 1,000 payments made.
Visual Arts Presenting institutions have made the largest number of fee payments with 4,089 recorded.
The most commonly produced programs are in the category Event with Presentations or Performances by 2 or More Participants, representing 26% of all programs recorded. This is followed by Group Exhibition, 6+ Artists, representing 15% of all programs, and Talk Discussion or Workshop with 2 or More Participants representing 9% of all programs.
The least common fee categories are Solo Screening with In-Person Appearance, representing 1% of all programs; 2-Person Exhibition, representing 2% of programs; and Group Exhibition, 3-5 Artists, representing 3% of programs.
Payment ranges vary significantly by category. The largest variation in payment amount was found in fees for the Performance, Commission of New Work category. The smallest variation in payment amounts was found in fees for a Solo Screening with In-Person Appearance category.
Notably, 10 out of 68 institutions (15%) in the available W.A.G.E. data set have paid out the highest amounts in fees across all categories. Over half of these institutions have operating budgets under $500,000.
37% of all payment records are payments made to recurring artists. About 18% of all artists in the data set have received recurring payments.
The largest number of recurring payments occurred in programs categorized as Event with Presentations or Performances by 2 or More Participants, with 22% of recurring payments made in that category.
Group Exhibition, 3-5 Artists
233 individual artists
41 programs (53%) had sufficient data (at least three artist fees recorded under any one project)
13 programs (32% of 41 programs) had a fee discrepancy among artists contributing to any one project
Highest pay difference between artists under any one project was $13,600
Average pay difference between artists where pay discrepancies exist is $2,370
Range of recurring payments in this fee category: single artist receives 2-4 payments
Group Exhibition, 6+ Artists
873 individual artists
63 programs (53%) had sufficient data (at least six artist fees recorded under any one project)
33 programs (52% of 63 programs) had a fee discrepancy among artists contributing to any one project
Highest pay difference between artists under any one project was $3,750
Average pay difference between artists where pay discrepancies exist is $2,370
Range of recurring payments in this fee category: single artist receives 2-5 payments
The number of institutions certified by W.A.G.E. has significantly increased since 2014 but the rate of this increase has slowed over time. After the first year, the number of institutions certified increased by 67%. By the sixth year, the increase in the number of institutions certified was 19%. This analysis does not include institutions certified in FY19-20.
The average time that an institution is certified is 2.5 years. This was calculated from the sum of years each institution has been certified since 2014, excluding certification records for FY19-20 which is still in progress. The range for which institutions have been certified is 1–6 years.
This section provides information about how the data was gathered, what data is missing and why, and an FAQ of relevant data points.
The data set was assembled from 2 distinct phases of W.A.G.E. Certification’s administration:
1) Data gathered manually prior to the program's automation in August, 2017.
2) Data gathered using the platform’s automated fee tracking tool after August, 2017.
During the first phase, institutions submitted payment records yearly in Excel spreadsheet form. Compliance with the minimum standard was enforced by manually checking each fee against the assigned minimum for every institution, and for each category. The data gathered during this period accounts for 41% or 2,877 of the 6,970 fee payments on record. Of these payments, 455 were made before W.A.G.E. Certification’s launch (December 6, 2013 – October 12, 2014). These records were submitted by institutions as proof of having paid fees in order to qualify for certification and were later incorporated into the W.A.G.E. platform as retroactive certifications. 3% of pre-launch payments fall below the W.A.G.E. minimum, but these payments were made before W.A.G.E. standards were introduced. The data gathered in the second phase constitutes 59% of the data set and is made up of 4,092 fee payments. These records are largely complete in all categories.
W.A.G.E. has certified 77 institutions in total. The data set includes payment records from 68 of those institutions across 15 fee categories. 9 institutions did not or would not submit records of having paid W.A.G.E. fees during the year(s) they were certified. In total there are 20 fiscal years of data missing. In addition, 21 institutions did not update their tracked fees for the current fiscal year in progress. These missing fee payment records range from 1 to 9 months in length. During the first phase of the program's administration, W.A.G.E. did not consistently track word count or hours in the categories Commissioned Text for Publication, Existing Text for Publication, and Day Rate for Performers resulting in a limited amount of missing data for these categories within the first 3 years.
1708 Gallery (Richmond, VA)
3Arts, Inc. (Chicago, IL)
Alliance of Artists Communities (Providence, RI)
Art Gym (Portland, OR)
Art League Houston (Houston, TX)
Art Students League of Denver (Denver, CO)
ArtBridge (New York, NY)
Artists Space (New York, NY)
Artspace New Haven (New Haven, CT)
Asia Art Archive in America (New York, NY)
Bas Fisher Invitational (Miami, FL)
Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York (New York, NY)
Black Cube (Denver, CO)
Blank Forms (New York, NY)
Blue Star Contemporary (San Antonio, TX)
BURNAWAY (Atlanta, GA)
c:3initiative (Portland, OR)
Carnegie Int’l 57th ed., 2018 (Pittsburgh, PA)
China Residencies (New York, NY)
Clockshop (Los Angeles, CA)
CUE Art Foundation (New York, NY)
Culture Mill (Saxapahaw, NC)
Culture Push (New York, NY)
Darger HQ (Omaha, NE)
Disjecta (Portland, OR)
DiverseWorks (Houston, TX)
EFA Project Space (New York, NY)
Eyebeam (New York, NY)
FD13 Residency (St Paul, MN)
Franklin Furnace Archive (New York, NY)
Handwerker Gallery (Ithaca, NY)
Happy Family Night Market (New York, NY)
Houston Center for Photography (Houston, TX)
Indexical (Santa Cruz, CA)
Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)
ISSUE Project Room (New York, NY)
Jacob Lawrence Gallery (Seattle, WA)
Jonah Boekar (New York, NY)
LAXART (Los Angeles, CA)
Light Industry Cinema Projects, Ltd. (New York, NY)
Locust Projects (Miami, FL)
Loghaven Artist Residency (Knoxville, TN)
Machine Project (Los Angeles, CA)
MassArt Art Museum (Boston, MA)
MINT (Atlanta, GA)
Mizna (Minneapolis, MN)
Neu Kirche (Pittsburgh, PA)
No Longer Empty (New York, NY)
Omaha Creative Institute (Omaha, NE)
Open Source Gallery (New York, NY)
Open Space (San Francisco, CA)
Participant Inc (New York, NY)
Performance Space New York (New York, NY)
Primary Information (New York, NY)
Recess (New York, NY)
River Valley Arts Collective (Hudson Valley, NY)
Rose Art Museum (Waltham, MA)
SF Camerawork (San Francisco, CA)
Side Street Projects (Los Angeles, CA)
Southern Exposure (San Francisco, CA)
Squeaky Wheel Film & Media Art Center (Buffalo, NY)
Swiss Institute / Contemporary Art (New York, NY)
The Artist's Institute (New York, NY)
The Lab (San Francisco, CA)
The Lighthouse Works (Fishers Island, NY)
The New Foundation Seattle (Seattle, WA)
The Soap Factory (Minneapolis, MN)
Threewalls (Chicago, IL)
Transformer (Washington, DC)
Triple Canopy (New York, NY)
University of Maryland Art Gallery (College Park, ML)
Vera List Center (New York, NY)
Verge Center of the Arts (Sacramento, CA)
Washington Project for the Arts (Washington, DC)
Wave Pool (Cincinnati, OH)
Weavers Guild of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN)
Yale Union (Portland, OR)
Live Music and Performance
Publishing Platform (Artist's Books)
Research Center and Public Forum
Residency Program/Live Music and Performance
Residency Program/Visual Arts Presenting
Visual Arts Presenting
Visual Arts Presenting (Public Art)
Visual Arts Presenting (Quinquennial)
Visual Arts Presenting & Service Organization
Visual Arts Presenting in Temporary Spaces
Visual Arts Presenting Museum
An exhibition focused on a single artist. It may extend across a full floor or a series of spaces or include a series of programs. It may involve existing, new and commissioned work and often involves the presentation of a number of different works and the publication of a catalog. A Solo Exhibition is defined as inclusive of a range of content and services, including some of the categories listed below (performances, programming, screenings).
The presentation of commissioned work by a single artist that comprises a single work, body of work or project, and is smaller in scale than a Solo Exhibition.
An exhibition focused on the work of two artists. This may involve existing, new or commissioned work.
An exhibition focused on the work of three to five artists. This includes works of performance.
An exhibition focused on the work of six or more artists, including a recurring survey exhibition such as a biennial. This includes works of performance.
For each performance of an existing work. Fees in this category are paid to the Contracted Artist. For fees to other performers see "Day Rate for Performers".
A new performance work commissioned by a host institution. Fees in this category are paid to the Contracted Artist. Fees to other performers are dispensed under 'Day Rate for Performers'.
The screening of a film or video accompanied by an in-person appearance by the artist. The fee is separate and distinct from any rental fees paid to a film distributor. The continuous screening of a film or video in an exhibition is covered under the exhibition categories listed above. In the case of both single and continuous screening in an exhibition context, institutions are not required to pay an artist fee if a fee is paid to a distributor.
A single event with solo presentations or performances by two or more participants. This may include works such as, but not limited, to performances, screenings, or readings.
A single event with the simultaneous or shared participation of two or more participants.
The delivery by a single participant of an existing talk or visual presentation of works, or the reading of a text to an audience.
The delivery by a single participant of a new presentation or talk. Criteria for what constitutes new content must be negotiated between artist and institution.
The reprinting of an existing text in a publication issued by an organization.
A new essay or text commissioned for publication by an organization. (Copyright remains with the artist/author: payment of a fee does not render the commission "work for hire.")
Fees paid to performers participating in commissioned and existing performances created by the Contracted Artist. Fees are paid to performers directly by the organization. ‘Performers’ include all persons who may be understood as performers, whether called Facilitators, Re-performers, Caretakers or other.