Artist Payments at NYC Nonprofits, By the Numbers

by William Powhida on April 23, 2012

As a supplement to “Why Are (Most) Artists (So Fucking) Poor?” here is some of the data from the 2010 W.A.G.E. survey of payments received by artists who exhibited with nonprofit art institutions in New York City between 2005 and 2010.

All images courtesy W.A.G.E. and all images can be clicked to view a larger version.

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  • kaboomNYC

    Nature of the business, just like acting. It takes years of non-pay work to develop one’s skills, so it’s not like accounting, where you get a degree, then you go out and get a job. Unfortunately, it’s the way the art world is set up. And unfortunately, most artists are terrible business people, and even when they should be getting paid, or paid more, they still let themselves be taken advantage of. An accountant doesn’t necessarily care about the quality of his work when he’s on payroll, but he does want to get paid for the hours he works. An artists does the reverse, and that’s ripe to be taken advantage of.

    • It doesn’t need to be the nature of the business.  The nature of business in general is the exploitation of one for the benefit of the other.  Just because it is, doesn’t mean it should be. 

  • Powhida, No pencil drawings or watercolors of graphs? Color me surprised!

    Ben Knight

  • Interesting. When Edison invented the phonograph and movie camera the productivity of musicians and actors increased phenomenally. Indeed, I know of no industry with greater productivity gains in human history, ever. Industries quickly arose around controlling the distribution of the recordings, hence in the last hundred years these have been very well paid professions for the first time in history (excluding those periods where it was fashionable for rich patrons to keep entertainers on retainer).
               By contrast visual artists like painters seem to have dropped the ball on controlling the distribution of the images they create. Perhaps it’s because the technology for reproducing art is so much older than the turn of the twentieth century: It arose in a time when the mechanisms for creating capitalist industries was less developed than in 1890s America.
             The tide may be turning again. Technology is making it increasingly difficult to control the distribution of music and movies despite those industries’ best efforts, meaning that actors and musicians may be returning to their historical norm of middling prosperity to poverty. Like artists.

  • Jillian Steinhauer

    I think it’s really interesting if you look at the two Artists Fee by Size of Organization charts back to back. It was more common for artists to receive fees for performances and lectures than for exhibitions. Artists’ time and work seem to matter to orgs if they’re passing in house, but the time and work that go into a painting that then hangs for weeks or months doesn’t.

  • marioalberico

    Here is a remarkable article. It is funny and comical and very sad indeed. It speaks volumes about this topic.

  • treblclef20

    I’m surprised no one has commented about the fact that small-medium orgs. seem to have scored better than larger institutions.  Having worked at orgs. of multiple sizes, my experience is that the small-medium have career cultivation in their missions.  They purposely work fees into their missions and budgets.  Larger institutions like museums don’t get this specific about what fine details their missions might entail.  They almost always have less complete understandings of their missions than the smaller orgs., which make these details almost irrelevant for them.  This major difference is not so much due to art world conventions, but the realities of non-profit leadership and engagement with mission.  The bigger institutions have a harder time getting this right in general.

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