|February 13, 2017. There are now forty W.A.G.E. Certified organizations — in seventeen cities across twelve states! The latest are Baxter Street Camera Club of New York (New York, NY), Blue Star Contemporary (San Antonio, TX), China Residencies (New York, NY), Primary Information (New York, NY), Squeaky Wheel (Buffalo, NY), Washington Project for the Arts (Washington, DC), and Yale Union (Portland OR).
With Primary Information on board, there are now eight W.A.G.E. Certified organizations that are also members of Common Practice New York, an advocacy group of seventeen small to mid-scale New York arts organizations. All forty W.A.G.E. Certified organizations are also small to mid-sized, and we are proud of that fact.
So what’s stopping the big institutions and museums?
Amidst the frenzy of draconian policymaking by executive order, many institutions have found themselves under pressure to take a public position relative to the Trump administration and its fundamental incompatibility with their founding missions and stated values. Cultural institutions nationwide have been doing some serious soul searching about where they stand on injustice, and are asking difficult questions like: What is our role? Who do we serve? Is culture neutral? Is neutrality a form of complicity? Who are our board members, exactly? Should we act as sanctuaries? How can we support dissent?
But the one kind of injustice they don't seem to be considering is the kind that is just as crudely at odds with their missions and values: economic injustice. Here we refer not only to artists but also to the sector’s normalization of unpaid and underpaid labor more broadly, which for amply funded institutions is a choice, not a necessity. It includes interns and fellows, subcontracted low-wage service workers performing frontline and invisible labor, gendered administrative staff who are undervalued and overburdened, as well as contracted freelance art handlers and teaching artists without benefits, health insurance or workplace protections. In some cases it includes everyone except the grossly overpaid director and sometimes also the self-exploiting underpaid director — but in all cases the division of labor is racialized.
When W.A.G.E. calls out the non-payment of artists in the non-profit sector we're calling out a symptom — one simple sign of pervasive and systemic economic injustice. The non-profit sector is unfortunately not exempt from a culture of entrepreneurship that has polarized cultural workers as a labor force, pitting artists and administrative staff against manual and service workers along intersecting lines of race and class.
So why labor now? Because cultural equity and economic justice are indivisible and interdependent, and any consideration by institutions of their role in supporting cultural dissent must necessarily include a consideration of their role in perpetuating economic oppression.
We support institutions in questioning their responsibility as public charities and as public goods, and we remind the big institutions and museums who continue to use the W.A.G.E. Fee Calculator without getting W.A.G.E. Certified that at this particular historical juncture, to meaningfully take a position on injustice is to do so publicly.
It is precisely because there’s never a good time to talk about labor that we have to talk about it now. If not now then when?
The next deadline to apply for W.A.G.E. Certification is Thursday, March 1. Guidelines and instructions can be found here.
Read about what W.A.G.E. is working on here.
W.A.G.E. Certification is generously supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation.