A Note on the Met's New Admissions Policy
by Rachel Kubrick
January 11th, 2018
On Thursday, January 4th, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened the new year with a disappointing announcement. From now on, the pay-as-you-wish policy will be done away with, replaced by a rather complex system determined by geography and identification. Pay-as-you-wish will be reserved for New York State (read state not city) residents and students of the tristate area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), proven by an ID. Children under 12 can see the art for free. All visitors that do not meet the pay-as-you-wish requirements, which the Met approximates to be 31% of annual visitors, will be required to pay the full admissions fee, allowing them admission to all three Met museums (including the Met Breuer of Modern Art and the Met Cloisters of Medieval Art) for three days. This admissions fee is $25 for adults, $17 for seniors, and $12 for students.
It is notable that the adult fee is the same as other significant Manhattan art museums, the Guggenheim, the MoMA, and the Whitney, while the senior and student fees are less at the Met than at these museums. These examples may be private museums, unlike the Met which is a government-funded public institution, but visitors are paying the same or more for much less. The largest of these three is the MoMA, which is less than one fifth the size of the Met’s main 5th Avenue building. In terms of collection size, MoMA has about 200,000 pieces (not all of which are on view), according to their website. The Met, on the other hand, has more than one million objects on view, not even including all the works and artifacts in storage at any given point.
Also, consider a museum perhaps more equal to the size and scope of the Met, but in a different field: The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), located almost directly across from the Met on the other side of Central Park. The AMNH charges $23 for adults, $13 for children, and $18 for seniors and students for a single day ticket. This is more or less equitable to the Met, even cheaper for the adult population, but keep in mind that parents must pay $13 for children, while at the Met they would pay zero. What is most striking however, is that these prices do not even cover the full experience. The prices get higher if one wants to see a special exhibition, film, or space show in the famous Hayden Planetarium, and even higher if one wants to have a full experience of everything the AMNH has to offer (a $10 upcharge for adults). The Met, in comparison, does not have any extra fees for special exhibitions.
All the museums compared here are private, non-profit organizations, so all patrons, including the New York City residents that make up such a valuable support system, must pay full price. A comparable public museum across the pond, the British Museum, is free for admission. This dedication to a “free” public museum was the very reason British Museum Director Neil MacGregor declined the same position at the Met in 2008, as its pay-as-you-wish system still required payment. This commitment does not to extend to special exhibitions, however, which do require a paid ticket. For one current special exhibition at the British Museum, the well-reviewed Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia, patrons must pay £17.50, including fees, which comes to $23.69, almost the price for an adult Met ticket. This does not include entrance to the other special exhibition available. It is also important to recognize that the British Museum is funded by the United Kingdom government, while the Met is funded by New York City only. Furthermore, a large portion of the British Museum’s budget comes from these public funds, while public funding only makes up 9% for the Met Museum, according to a January 8th interview of president and CEO Daniel H. Weiss by Hyperallergic.
I am not agreeing with the Met’s move to charge admission to out of state residents, and do recognize the many downfalls of this plan. The Met, however, has only come to this decision in the wake of serious financial concerns, rather than simply on a greed campaign at the expense of tourists. Many of these issues have come from the projects of the past decade by the recently deposed director Thomas Campbell, including a rebranding plan, opening the Met Breuer, attempting to expand the modern and contemporary wing, and developing the digital department, costing the museum millions upon millions that it simply could not afford.
What is essential in the continuing dialogue on this issue, is that the Met is judged in the context of other major museums in New York and elsewhere. It is simply unfair to chastise the Met for charging admission to non-New Yorkers (whose taxes do not contribute to its NYC public funding), when other museums charge far more for much less, and not a single art critic or disgruntled tourist bats an eye.
However, we still must acknowledge the problems that come up with the change in admissions policy, and challenge the Met to seriously review this new action. As an institution that relies upon the continued patronage of the New York City and global community, it cannot ignore the legitimate concerns of a devoted public. Its leadership acting on the defense has not proven to be a constructive way of addressing these qualms. But it is not a black and white issue. The Met as an institution is not the “bad guy” that many have made it out to be since the announcement, and yet this policy change was certainly not the noblest way to handle its financial woes. There are many other forms of spending by the museum that could be cut instead to make up for the deficit, perhaps starting with the large salaries and bonuses awarded to Met executives, not excluding a prime Park Avenue apartment reserved for the museum director.
All in all, both parties, the Met itself and its critics, need to consider context and consequences to create an effective dialogue, so that all can once again see this landmark as an accessible space of human history and its artistic creation.