Equity in the visual and performing arts begins with the recognition that the contribution made by cultural producers is integral to the functioning of an arts institution, and financial compensation is part of acknowledging this value. Payment must be conceived and established in direct relation to what an institution chooses to pay its employees and subcontractors. W.A.G.E. Certification determines payment standards by looking at each nonprofit institution as its own entity—this means understanding its particularities and contingencies by examining the conditions under which it operates, and then defining what equity means under those conditions. For example, what is an institution's relationship to real estate: does it rent, own and/or function as a real estate market speculator/developer? What is its age? Does it have an endowment? What are its long and short-term investment and funding strategies? What is its mission? What is its annual total operating budget? Approximately how many exhibitions does it produce, and how many cultural producers tend to participate, annually? How does the institution itself define “equity”? Once W.A.G.E. has a comprehensive picture of how an organization identifies itself and those it chooses to work with, as well as how it derives its income and chooses to spend it, we can begin to consider what fairness, ethics and equity are within that context. What is essentially a microeconomy requires looking at all of the workers within its organizational structure, and understanding the economic functionality of it as a sociocultural and economic entity.
Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) is a New York-based activist group that focuses on regulating the payment of artist fees by nonprofit art institutions, and establishing a sustainable model for the best practices between cultural producers and the institutions which contract their labor.