Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Communication Studies


Since its founding in 2008, W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy) has worked to reform the economic habits of US art institutions and of the artists upon whose cultural work these institutions are dependent. Inside a decade, W.A.G.E. went from a small grassroots collective to an internationally recognized, yet lean, organization, which not only advocates for labour standards in the nonprofit art sector, but also develops practical tools to begin the work of doing better by equality in the art world. This chapter positions W.A.G.E. as an example of what Immanuel Ness terms “new forms of worker organization.” Informed by W.A.G.E.-authored texts, media coverage of W.A.G.E., and interviews with the group’s core organizer and programmer, the chapter surveys W.A.G.E.’s strategies for organizing “dark matter,” a concept that Gregory Sholette has repurposed from physics as a metaphor for the majority of artists and activities that populate the art world and uphold and subsidize its most visible and commercially successful figures. W.A.G.E. is explored in five registers: its practice of parrhesia, algorithm of fairness, strategy of certification, post-horizontalist form of organization, and platformization of labour politics. While W.A.G.E. has been tackling dilemmas specific to the nonprofit arts, its strategies hold wider relevance to confronting the challenge of organizing workers who are outside of an employment relationship, who lack access to unions, and for whom the opportunity to be self-expressive or the promise of exposure may be regarded as compensation enough.