Tag: W.A.G.E

When to Work for Free?

I am not going to give you the answer you may be seeking. That’s because this is a blog…and ultimately the right answer is deeply personal.

At best I hope to just talk (type, really) through a few points in this blog. The topic of working for “exposure” often rears its frustrated head during our Ignite class. Artists are tired of being asked to give away their work and/or creative energy for free. I get it.

So when do you give away your art?

It is up to you. Really. But I am going to go through a few ways of thinking about intentional giving.


There is a lot of discussion in the Atlanta art community right now around art auctions/art fundraisers

Image by Chad Gierlich via flick
Image by Chad Gierlich via flick

and how they add or detract from the fair valuation of art. I am not adding to that conversation in this blog at this time. What I do want to examine is mission. If you believe in the mission of the organizer or nonprofit that is raising funds, then feel free to give. If you feel uneasy about the balance of power, then don’t give. Support the mission of organizations that speak to you and your core values. I am not putting the onus of creating value in the marketplace on the artist–what I am saying is this: be selective, be purposeful, be discriminate. Corporations do this ALL they time. They don’t give to everyone who asks.

Think about why you want to give and the impact of your gift. I know that I cannot personally give to every cause. Neither can you (unless you have a ton of money and in that case, let’s get lunch!). If you happen to receive accolades and exposure for your gift, great. I will never promise you that will happen if you give to C4. I will do my best to appreciate the heck out of you, but I would rather someone give because they believe in the work we are doing. There are some very worthy causes in our community. For thought: the average American household contributes more than $2,900 annually to charities.

Your Budget

If you want to give to a cause each year, put that in your budget. Make it its own expense line. When you have reached your giving cap, you can make the decision to dig deeper or you can say, “I am sorry, I have reached my budget for donations this year.” Again, corporations and wealthy people do this ALL the time. Track what you give. In an ideal world, I would love to be able to give away to charitable causes 10% of my income every year.

Tax Deductions

This is not tax advice. Just some stuff I know. Many of you know that if you are a visual artist, you cannot deduct the fair market value of your art donated to an auction, etc. There are legislators seeking to change this law. Realize that the change in law will not offer the fair market deductions for auctions, necessarily. Fundraising supports charitable work but itself is not a charitable activity. Furthermore, actors, dancers, singers, doctors, lawyers, CPAs, and the list goes on, do not receive a tax deduction for the time they give to a charitable cause. But they do it every year. In fact Georgia Lawyers for the Arts has a cadre of attorneys who provide in-kind service benefits in the millions. Millions. None of those attorneys are able to deduct their time spent.

A tax deduction would be a nice bonus to giving and C4 supports legislation to help artists received fair market value for art work that has a public benefit, but don’t let that be the reason or deterrent. Give because you believe in the cause.

Project Work

Fry from FuturamaArtists are often underpaid. Negotiate. Work for money, not exposure. Determine your fair value, and demand it. Your fellow artists will also be the better for it, because it will encourage the market to appreciate fair value for all arts workers. Make sure you learn about budgeting. Understand the difference between direct and indirect costs. Pay yourself–I mean really. This is key. When we asked funders what one of the biggest mistakes artists make when submitting a grant application they replied that artists often omit in their budgets a line item for their own artist’s fee. Add it as a line item in your project budget. You may have to invest up front as you begin your art career–this isn’t unusual in most businesses. Many businesses began with “debt equity.” The restaurant business, your local gym, the oil change-slash-car-wash-place, local nursery, and the list goes on. As a freelancer, do your best to move to a place where your total costs are covered in your project expense budgets.

Work toward not coming out of pocket for a project that someone else hired you to complete. You will resent the work.

There are projects that you will want to put your own money into. You may self-produce to: raise awareness for a cause, experiment with a new idea, work with a colleague you really respect, work on a piece of material (like a script) that has had your heart for awhile…or you just want to try something new. All valid reasons.

My only advice: find balance. I mean balance of power, balance of live/work, balance of paid/unpaid, and balance of love for the practice.


I am personally hesitant to take on interns. This is because a true internship benefits the the intern more than the host company. In fact, interns are not supposed to help you expand your bottom line. I do not want free labor. I want our interns to get a) educational credit b) paid or c) a ton of experience that will help her/his career move forward. Volunteers and interns are not the same.

I think it is also worth mentioning that internships by their very nature, sometimes breed inequality. How? Think about it. You can’t support a family on an internship unless you have savings, a family member willing to cover your expenses while you intern, or the ability to pay back loans.

I am not against internships. I have had some wonderful internship opportunities.

When considering an internship, think about what you will receive from your training. How will you use it? Are you making connections? Do your career goals align with the internship opportunity? Are you learning marketable skills? Does the internship offer a stipend? Who benefits more, you or the company?

I am sure you have your own thoughts about the arts economy. Feel free to leave a comment. Remember, this is not an exhaustive research post. I am also not speaking for every staff member or board member…how could I? I am one person. I can say that as an organization, we want to see artists being paid fair wages. It’s the right thing to do. Period.

Here are a few resources for your consideration:

Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E)

Department of Labor & the Fair Labor Standards Act 

Image by Chad Gierlich via flick


4 Ways to Not Get Priced Out

The C4 team has been attending various panels, talks, sessions around town about planning, culture & development and more. Artists being out-priced in a particular neighborhood has been a hot topic. With “placemaking” initiatives popping up all over the U.S., this issue is not unique to Atlanta. The list below is not intended to be a magic solution. The fact is, gentrification, real estate, education, etc. can be complex issues.

1) Advocate for fair wage

Please Pay Here
Photo by stevendepolo

Much of the discussions I have heard over the last week centered around the rising costs of real estate. A number of solutions have been researched and presented by people way smarter than I. However, as Ryan Gravel pointed out during the Future of Atlanta panel (audio available here) hosted by the Museum of Design Atlanta, there is another economic player in the room: wage. Affordable housing may be a relative term if you are living at only 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. Arts workers: we have got to demand fair pay. Also, stop working for exposure.

I would challenge every working, semi-established artist in Atlanta to join the W.A.G.E. coalition. W.A.G.E. stands for: Working Artists and the Greater Economy.

Founded in 2008, Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) is a New York-based activist organization focused on regulating the payment of artist fees by nonprofit art institutions and establishing a sustainable labor relation between artists and the institutions that contract their labor.

Non-profit producing/presenting organizations: become W.A.G.E certified. We have to be part of the solution. It isn’t always easy, but paying artists a livable wage should be a priority. Arts administrators are often woefully underpaid AND over worked. Funders can help by lifting tight restrictions on project dollars in regards to indirect costs, or more funders can offer general operating support.

W.A.G.E. Certification is a program initiated and operated by Working Artists and the Greater Economy that publicly recognizes non-profit arts organizations demonstrating a history of, and commitment to, voluntarily paying artist fees that meet a minimum payment standard.

2) Fight for equity across the board                         

Photo by La Citta Vita

This is something I heard Chris Appleton from WonderRoot mention at the Culture Over Condos meeting hosted by the Center for Civic Innovation Atlanta and Creative Loafing. I also heard a community organizer from the Queens Museum stress this same point at a convening in New York City (same issues exist there too!). If we align ourselves with other cross-sector causes, then we have strength in numbers. Housing, insurance accessibility, transportation, etc. are not issues that solely belong to any one community. They affect us all–whether directly or indirectly.

3) Connect with organizations

C4 Education Manager, Audrey Gámez, wrote about this point in her last blog post about getting involved in community. I don’t want to harp on this too much…what the heck, I do want to harp on it! Community organizations and nonprofits provide a myriad of direct services, but they also act as a clearing house for relevant information to your trade or area of interest. WonderRoot, Alternate ROOTS, C4 Atlanta, and others are often your direct line to issues affecting the arts community. If you have a question about a particular issue, reach out to a local arts service organization. If we don’t know the answer, we will do our best to find out. At the very least, check out their social media presence. C4 shares blog posts, articles, videos and more that are relevant to our mission. Interact with us. We like it.

4) Familiarize yourself with policy

I know. Yawn, right. But sometimes it is necessary to lobby for top-down change. Grassroots efforts and community building can help influence positive change, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Think about funding for the arts or housing. It may take policy change to interrupt the status quo.



As applied to a law, ordinance, or Rule of Law, the general purpose or tendency considered as directed to the welfare or prosperity of the state or community.

So this is an area I am still navigating. The best place to start is by doing some research. What are the issues that are important to you? I have been working in nonprofit arts for over ten years, and I learn something new every week. I have learned to enlist the help of mentors and advisers. These are informal relationships with people whom I can call when I have a question about existing or proposed policy changes.

In San Francisco, the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) is a public/private supported fund to help arts organizations remain stable (not be out-priced) in a volatile real estate market. When you know about other efforts in other cities, you can pull research, best practices, or even a model to help bring to elected officials or decision makers in your community. I learned about CAST by through an RSS feed aggregate about arts and culture. This is part of my daily research. I spend about an hour every day researching trends that affect arts and culture and, more specifically, arts workers. Always having an ear to the ground helps stay abreast of all the issues and changes that happen constantly and to be aware of any relevant case studies that may provide insight.

I guess I don’t have the best advice when it comes to navigating the murky waters of public policy other than it takes time. Democracy is work. The day you are born, you have entered into a social contract with other human beings.

Photo by stevendepolo

Photo by La Citta Vita


5 Ways to Get Involved With Your Community

Where to start?

This month, with elections looming in the future and lots of important issues that affect individual artists in Atlanta, including a LOT of complicated issues with urban development, I’m fired up to give other artists the resources to get out and be of greater impact in your community.

If I’m perfectly honest, I would be remiss to have you believing that I’ve been the most active and vocal participant in my community. Before working for C4 Atlanta, there were many issues that I cared about, but time and a lack of knowledge of resources hindered my ability to get myself involved with the things I cared about. It’s only been over the last two or so years that I’ve become a more active part of my community. That’s why I’m excited about today’s blog post. Anyone with limited time and resources who wants to be a part of what’s going on with advocacy for artists can do at least one of these things.

So if you’d like to be more active in finding out what’s going on and helping to inform the decisions made in our community, here’s some simple tips to get involved:

1. Go to things

C4 Founder and Executive Director at a Fulton County Budget Hearing
C4 Founder and Executive Director at a Fulton County Budget Hearing

Seriously, get off your butt and go to stuff. The best ways to find out what’s going on is to be present when it’s going on. Social Media is a great resource for finding out what is going on and where things are happening.  Go to your neighborhood association meetings, your NPU (neighborhood planning unit) meetings, Beltline planning meetings, county budget hearings, school board meetings, panels with city officials, and literally anything else that impacts your career and life as an artist in Atlanta that interests you. Angry about big box stores being built in your neighborhood or lack of affordable housing and studio spaces? Show up in the places where people decide these kinds of things. Your presence in the community is important, and elected and community officials take notice of who comes and who votes for them. Make it a point to go to things and be seen, and others will take notice of your efforts. Better yet, bring your artist friends, too. There is power in numbers. Not sure where to go or what to attend? Start with your local NPU or Neighborhood Association Meeting. A lot of local city planning and ordinances are discussed in these meetings, and it’s a great way to meet other folks who do important things within the community and find out about other goings on.

2. Speak Up

Recent Beltline Network Meeting featuring a panel that included artist Neil Carver
Recent Beltline Network Meeting featuring a panel that included artist Neil Carver

When you attend community functions and meetings, speak up. Say your name, where you live, and ask questions about things you want to know. Don’t feel intimidated to let your voice be heard and ask about things you don’t understand even if you know there are others in the room who may have a greater understanding of all the factors involved. Elected officials will also want to know whether or not you vote, so if you do, they are more likely to take greater notice of your participation. If you don’t voice your thoughts, no one else will. As both a member of an arts organization and an independent creative professional, I can tell you that organizations and artists have very different issues that they care about and very different power in the community. Advocating for the ARTS is not necessarily the same as advocating for ARTISTS and arts professionals. Issues like affordable housing, education and health care apply as much to individual artists as they do to everyone and can be even more important to the sustainability of our lifestyles and careers. The only way people will know what you care about is if you tell them.

3. Be A Joiner

Too often we artists feel like the employees who put up this tip jar.

If you really want to be of greater impact in your community, consider joining your neighborhood association, school group, or a nonprofit who’s mission lights a fire in your heart (C4 ATLANTA!). Facebook and Google can help you find groups to connect with if you aren’t sure where the causes you care about are located in the community. Connecting with other people who are united together for a cause has impact, and will also connect you to other resources so that you can become more involved and in the know. Again, individual artists and arts workers have different issues of interest than organizations. Even if the entity join is not arts related, your presence as an creative professional within their mission has weight and validity.  You also don’t have to commit to being president of the committee in order to volunteer or join and organization. Every organization has different needs, and most have many different ways to get involved.

4. Read and Educate Yourself

My community. Mural by unknown artist.
My community. Mural by unknown artist.

A voice is only as powerful as the truth it speaks. Educate yourself on issues within your community, your industry, trends, economy, politics, etc. Know your worth as an artist in the community! Americans for the Arts has some great research regarding the economic impact of artists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides a wealth of wage data for every profession in the U.S. based on census data. If fair wage for artists is important to you, check out the organization W.A.G.E. which certifies producing/presenting arts organizations who pay artists a fair living wage for their work. They will soon have an individual certification available for artists who vow to only work for fair wage. With the plethora of presidential candidates in the mix at the moment, it can feel overwhelming to try educate your self on the platforms of different candidates. Arts Action Fund presents a snapshot of each current presidential candidate and their views on the arts. The information is easily digestible to anyone and provides key data about each candidate’s state artistic economy for comparison. The Arts Action Fund uses the #ArtVote2016 on social media to highlight key issues and questions during debates. They have also compiled reports regarding congressional voting records for arts related legislation and included a grading system for lawmakers. ArtsGeorgia is a local Georgia advocacy group that offers information and helps to promote issues related to arts and culture in the political sphere. There is a wealth of information related to the arts available on their website.

5. Vote!!!!

As much as you can talk and act and join and show up in your community, without actually voting for the people responsible for making larger decisions, you are heavily limiting the scope of your individual power to affect change. And if you don’t vote, elected officials are far less likely to take your presence seriously. Elected officials have to speak to you if you ask. It might not be timely, but they’ll do it. Because that’s their job. Having greater efficacy in your talk can depend on whether you are an active voter in their constituency. And if you don’t know who your elected officials are, especially those at the local level, go find out.

C4 Atlanta keeps our members and stakeholders abreast of interests and issues in arts advocacy and advocating for arts workers. If you’d like to learn more about these issues, join our monthly newsletter and indicate your interest in arts advocacy.

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