16 Oct

Mr Barlow the vampire, from "Salem's Lot' It just seems appropriate in some way.

The New York-based group W.A.G.E. have for some time been advocating better pay and conditions for artists, and more accountability by the organisations and businesses who profit materially from their labour. Now they’ve launched a certification system for places that meet their guidelines of voluntarily and fairly remunerating artists. I won’t add too much commentary because I suggest you go over there and read it all if you’re an artist or you work with artists, whether you’re based in the USA or not.

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.

Definitions of various types of work, or working relationships, that an artist may have with an arts organisation and for which they should be paid.

Their fee calculator. Note that their minimum levels, although quite low, are still far more than many artists currently get. This is just as true in the UK as it is elsewhere, even though the UK– despite vicious ideological cuts by the Conservatives and their so-called “austerity” measures, not to mention a tiny fraction of GDP funding it all to begin with– has one of the world’s most generous, functional and comprehensive systems of state funding for the arts. It just doesn’t filter through to artists, for the most part. As W.A.G.E. point out, and I have noted many times, none of these publicly funded places would think of telling their caterers or printers that they shouldn’t expect to be paid because “there’s no budget for it.” Their attitude seems to be thanks for the lifeblood, hope you don’t die so we can bleed you some more later.

The W.A.G.E. minimum fee for a solo exhibition is only $1000 (€790 or £630), for example. Bear in mind that most artists are lucky to have one solo exhibition per year. At these rates she or he would need to have one for every month of the year to earn the meagre pre-tax figure of $12,000 PA. For an artist talk or reading, the W.A.G.E. minimum is $150 (€120 or £95). Although these are minimums and obviously the hope is that organisations voluntarily pay more if they can, it should be emphasised that these are not ambitious figures by any reasonable standard and they’re setting the bar very low. Which is not a dig at W.A.G.E. in any manner whatsoever. It’s just indicative of how disgracefully and contemptuously the art world has learned to treat it’s most precious assets, i.e. artists.

The W.A.G.E. wo/manifesto:


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