"It divides people into categories — rich and poor, native and foreign"
January 6, 2018 1:14 PM   Subscribe

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the end of its nearly half-century long pay-as-you-wish tradition, imposing mandatory admission fees for non-New Yorkers.

The mega-museum faces a $10 million/year budget gap and is looking to the $25 adult admission fee to help balance the books. Art critics were not impressed with the change, questioning the ~$6-8 million/year the measure is expected to raise in comparison to recent donor-directed projects such as the $65 million Koch Plaza outside along with the Met's ongoing turmoil and mismanagement (previously on MetaFilter).

Others pointed to the discriminatory impact of asking New Yorkers to show ID to prove residency: "I cannot remember a time when a museum’s unqualified demonstration of “doors open to all” would carry more positive — I would say necessary — political weight." (The Met says it will not turn people away without proper ID, but will remind visitors to have it next time.) Writing in the New Yorker, Alexandra Schwartz raised ethical concerns:
That openness is an ethical mission, and an especially important one in a city that feels more and more closed. Last year, when the prospect of enforced admissions for non-New Yorkers first came up, Mayor Bill de Blasio was all for it, telling the Times, “I’m a big fan of Russian oligarchs paying more to get into the Met.” This is absurd. Billionaires won’t suffer from admissions enforcement. The people affected by the change will be families visiting our ruthlessly expensive city from out of state or from another country; students who have taken the bus or train in to fill their heads with art; immigrants without the right papers. (The Met says that it will ask for documents of residency for those claiming local privileges, though not insist on them. Apparently the hope is that a firm “Better bring it with you next time” will suffice.) The new policy will earn the museum more revenue. It will also almost certainly restrict access. That, too, seems contrary to the ethos of the Met as a place of refuge, a sanctuary in a city that also pledges to be one.
The new policy also sparked broader discussion of the role of restricted gifts, as museums like the Met expand their collections and facilities and build $2.5 billion endowments while struggling to meet operating costs. Only 36% of US art museums charged admission fees in 1992, while 2/3rds did by 2008.

The move follows a legal battle over the pay-as-you-wish policy. The museum uses the City-owned building rent free, and its 1878 lease (and state law) required it be "open and accessible to the public free of charge." Optional admission fees began in the 1970s, along with regular arguments over the clarity of the signage informing visitors of this fact. A 2016 class action settlement over the fee policy changed the signs from "recommended admission" to "suggested admission," but left the policy intact. Over the past 13 years, the percentage of visitors paying the "suggested" amount have dropped 63 percent to 17 percent. The new policy is expected to impact roughly a third of visitors.
posted by zachlipton (55 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I kept this out of the FPP since it's original research, but buried in the court documents from the last Met admissions lawsuit is an excerpt from a 1975 letter in which the museum's Director states the average adult visitor gave between $.85-$.95 for admission. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $4-$4.50 in today's money. The new mandatory adult fee for non-New Yorkers of $25 (the same charged by MoMA, the Whitney, and the Guggenheim) is 5-6 times what people paid in the 70s.

Beyond that, given the, ahem, questionable provenance of various antiquities in the Met's collection, charging foreign visitors $25 to see things that were removed from their country rubs me the wrong way.

Anyway, there's an old, possibly apocryphal, quote I can no longer source, in my recollection coming from a UC Berkeley official, that goes something like: "every donor wants their name on the side of the gym, but nobody wants their name on the PG&E [local electric company] bill." It is maddening to me how many non-profits I admire have found themselves flush with donations to build amazing new facilities, only to announce their dire financial predicament a few years later due to the higher costs of operating the new space.
posted by zachlipton at 1:14 PM on January 6 [46 favorites]


Anyway, there's an old, possibly apocryphal, quote I can no longer source, in my recollection coming from a UC Berkeley official, that goes something like: "every donor wants their name on the side of the gym, but nobody wants their name on the PG&E [local electric company] bill."
Yup. This is why it's almost always a good idea to make unrestricted donations. There's nothing glamorous about the "keep the lights on" fund, but someone needs to pay for that.

I'm going to New York for a conference in May and will have an extra day to do other things, and it's possible that the fee will keep me away from the Met. And that may be ok: it's not like I can't pay $25, and if I really valued it, I would pay it. But that's not trivial money, and it will definitely weigh in my decision whether to do that or something else.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:28 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


The MoMA costs $25, which kept me from visiting on one of my rare trips to NYC, because I was only going to be able to stay for about an hour and a half, and spending $16/hour for a visit felt ridiculous, even it it meant being able to kill time around some of the cultural touchstones of the 20th century.
posted by ardgedee at 1:35 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Wow. $25 is a very steep admission price. I paid $50 for four admissions to the Victoria and Albert last year. And $25 for three admissions to the David Bowie Is exhibition at Chicago's MCA (on top of my annual membership of $75.

Admission to museums does not offend me. And I understand that pay-what-you-can rarely gets people to actually pay more than an nominal amount, but $25 admission seems a bit high.
posted by crush at 1:36 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Last year, when the prospect of enforced admissions for non-New Yorkers first came up, Mayor Bill de Blasio was all for it, telling the Times, “I’m a big fan of Russian oligarchs paying more to get into the Met."

This fucking guy, I think in every situation he sets himself to thinking "How can I be an enormous ass?" And a xenophobe here to boot.

I'd been paying $20 on a $25 suggested to assert the right because it was obvious the management wanted to weasel out of their deal - time to start bringing my ID and a shiny new penny.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 1:38 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


I wonder if, rather than having a suggested admission of $25 that nobody paid, they could do a required admission of, say, $7.50 or $10. Because yeah, $25 seems steep.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:38 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


No, as stated in the FPP, it is against the Met's lease with the city and state law to charge a required admission fee. The $25 suggested fee may seem steep but is in line with other, smaller, museums in the city.
posted by plastic_animals at 1:50 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


I don't entirely understand why they think it's legal to charge a required admission fee at all. Nothing in the state law says you can charge out-of-towners. My read of the court case (and admittedly, the case lasted years and I haven't read every ruling) is that the court ruled that museum visitors don't have a private right of action under the 1893 state law. But since de Blasio seems to think the Met's biggest problem is Russian oligarchs plunking down a penny on the ticket counter, that's enforcing it is apparently not going to happen. The city gave them a new lease in 2013 that said the Met can set its own fees, in an apparent attempt to mess with the ongoing lawsuits, so I suppose the new policy doens't violate the current lease.
posted by zachlipton at 2:07 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


I believe they're bringing in a new director; when they sort out their mismanagement and stop with the general fucking around I might consider paying $25 to come in. I paid that at MoMA and wasn't sorry, but as it stands, I'd rather go to the Tenement museum or the Studio museum or...kind of anywhere else.

(Also I've applied for jobs there a good 5-6 times and they don't even send an automatic 'your application has been received don't even think about calling us' e-mail anymore, so I reserve the right to be petty.)
posted by kalimac at 2:15 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


I wonder if a flat fee might be a big enough deterrent to visitors in general, leading to eventual loss of cultural cachet, leading to loss of big donors. It’s certainly a deterrent to voluntarily paying more than $25/head, which a lot of people — including imaginary Russian oligarchs — must have been doing, right? So they’re not getting the $5 from people who only have $5, they’re only getting $25 from people who would have gladly paid $200, and they might not get the $500,000,000 from Anonymous Donor because she’d rather put her name on something people care about.

boldstrategy.gif

I honestly won’t be shocked if the Met’s income goes way down as a result of this.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:30 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


I wonder if a flat fee might be a big enough deterrent to visitors in general, leading to eventual loss of cultural cachet, leading to loss of big donors.
On the contrary, I think that getting rid of some of the lower-rent tourists from flyover country might increase the institution's cultural cachet. The truly posh people might appreciate smaller crowds and fewer tacky people with ugly clothes and unimpressive haircuts. I think that putting off people like me might be a feature, not a bug.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:36 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


Boo. Used to go every week when I was broke and living in NYC, paying a penny admission. Most tourists didn't know about the sliding scale anyways, doubt it affected admission.
posted by iamck at 2:39 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


The truly posh only go to museums for invite only gala events. Their homes are already filled with art.
posted by KingEdRa at 2:43 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


Honestly it’s already kind of fuckery that they don’t advertise that you can pay a penny and come in. I only know because my grandmother did and she told me. Most people don’t.
posted by corb at 2:49 PM on January 6


I’m no huge fan of Russian oligarchs, and don’t have much against Bill DiBlasio, but it would be pretty funny if the former were to flashily donate a jillion kabillion rubles to the Newark Museum just to spite the latter. But I suppose the moment has long passed for maximal hilarity.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:50 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


London museums and galleries should start charging £25 to New Yorkers only, it would be easy to test for. "Have you had a pizza/bagel/ridden the underground in London? How did it compare with home?" Obviously it would mean having a sound proof section near the entrance of each museum to stop the drone disturbing patrons.
posted by biffa at 3:01 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


One of the crazy aspects of the whole situation is that the cost of acquisitions have gone through the roof, partially due to the influence on the art market of Russian oligarchs, American billionaires, and now Chinese billionaires. The Met's most expensive acquisition was for $40-$50 million, whereas Dmitry Rybolovlev recently paid around $450 million for a single painting.

Museums like even the Met, the Louvre, and the Rijksmuseum can no longer really afford to compete with billionaires when purchasing art. As wealth inequality rises, trying to stay competitive by boosting ticket prices on the back of your ordinary patron walking through the doors will not hold for long, given the trends in recent years.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 3:05 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


> Used to go every week when I was broke and living in NYC, paying a penny admission.

Same here. I came to New York in 1981 with little beyond the shirt on my back and some books; when I was really broke I paid a penny or nothing, when I got a crappy job I paid a buck or two, and when I got a better job I paid more. The museum (along with the amazing libraries and bookstores) made me feel like a real citizen of the city, not just some bum, and it exposed me to a whole world of treasures. This is a dumb, counterproductive policy and I hope it collapses under the weight of public revulsion.
posted by languagehat at 3:17 PM on January 6 [37 favorites]


I paid $50 for four admissions to the Victoria and Albert last year.

Did you see a special exhibition? Because normal admission to the Victoria and Albert is free
posted by thecjm at 3:37 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


This outrages me, even though I will still be able to pay whatever. I've really come to view the Met as another greedy behemoth. These fuckers have a $1.6b unrestricted endowment?

And they show so little of their collection. I can't tell you how many times I've become interested in seeing work by a new-to-me artist, only to find that the works in NYC are shoved somewhere in the tunnels of the Met.
posted by lalex at 4:38 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


I have loved the Met ever since reading From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a child, long before I ever made it through the door. (The book is also why I know about the pay what you wish policy.)

I don't think the Met is a greedy behemoth and the article makes it sound like they're in a tough spot trying to balance their budget in the face of difficult circumstances (though partly of their own making). I hope they find a good path forward.
posted by Wretch729 at 5:48 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


So just to be clear, next time I'm in town I can just assert that I'm a New Yorker, they aren't allowed to ask for ID, and then I pay what I want? Is there any reason this is unethical, assuming one thinks the new policy is morally wrong?
posted by chortly at 5:54 PM on January 6


(I think the ID requirement is particularly outrageous but do want to point out that NYC has its own municipal photo ID and it's free, although certainly not costless in terms of time and effort.)
posted by lalex at 6:18 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


If you’re a real New Yorker, you grab your crotch and say “I got your ID RIGHT HERE” in your best Brooklyn accent.
posted by dr_dank at 6:41 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


cough cough elevator to the top floor in the back of the gift shop cough cough
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:06 PM on January 6 [11 favorites]


I just noticed that this doesn't kick in until March 1. And I'l lbe in New York in February. Excellent
posted by thecjm at 7:21 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


I keep coming back to 5-6X increase from the average admission donation in the 70s as the bit that bothers me the most, because I think it's so emblematic of where we are as a country. As inequality has risen, you have more and more situations where $25/person is essentially meaningless to a whole lot of people (from a value-based pricing perspective, compare admission to the treasures of the Met to the $24.29 ticket cost for an IMAX movie at the AMC Theater on 42nd St. The new Star Wars is damn good, but come on, they've got a Vermeer in there), while simultaneously posing a huge barrier to entry for so many others.

It's not really just the Met. It's the historic disconnect between productivity and wages (which, hey, happens to have started around the same point the Met started charging something) and the decades of above-inflation increases in college tuition and medical care. More parts of our society are unaffordable to more and more people, and the Met is just the latest domino to fall.

But it also kind of is the Met. This is a museum so caught up in the Gilded Age that it hosts an annual fundraiser that has become internationally renowned for its displays of wealth and excess. It's not that I begrudge them their donors; those donors are precisely why admission fees make up only 13% of the museum's operating budget and the place exists at all. But at some point, the years of pleasing the very wealthy, on sustaining yourself on their largess from atop your $3 billion endowment, it warps the mission. If David Koch wants to give the museum $65 million for stupid fountains with moving jets on 5th Avenue, they say sure, why not? Thanks for the check. (I was there a week ago, and I will tell you that what the pour souls waiting in line in the cold because they didn't know about the secret entrance needed was a covered and heated waiting area, not fountains.) The priority is always to do more, more of what big donors want to pay for through restricted gifts, rather than to sustain themselves and serve the public.

The Met has, in the past few years, done the $65 million plaza renovation, opened another museum in the Met Breuer, and was prepared to start on a $600 million expansion before realizing they had financial problems and should maybe try fixing the broken roof first. This decision isn't a desperate change to a longstanding policy to help save the museum; it's a matter of priorities. The institution's values apparently put these big donor-directed projects ahead of accessibility to the public; raising hundreds of millions to build a new wing is apparently easier than finding the $6-10 million year to help keep the museum accessible.
posted by zachlipton at 7:43 PM on January 6 [17 favorites]


Because the London museums are free, we went to three of them in one afternoon, then another for a whole day. We just wandered in and out without having to think about admissions fees. They recently lifted fees in Singapore for locals and I've gone to more museums since than the decades before with my children because I will just wander past and go oh, I have an hour before that meeting, I'll pop in for a bit or grab a willing child and head off to a new exhibition on a whim. Previously the museums and galleries were for schoolkids and tourists, now they are open. Like libraries.

Oh, I see.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:28 PM on January 6 [9 favorites]


Because the London museums are free, we went to three of them in one afternoon, then another for a whole day.

The National Gallery, etc. charge for exhibits. I'm not sure there is another major Western art museum that offers completely free admission. I don't like the change in policy, mind you--but the Met has been the outlier.

from a value-based pricing perspective, compare admission to the treasures of the Met to the $24.29 ticket cost for an IMAX movie at the AMC Theater on 42nd St. The new Star Wars is damn good, but come on, they've got a Vermeer in there

I once read an interview with the prior director who said that the museum thought the suggested admission should be roughly equivalent to the cost of a movie ticket. It's not the most outlandish comparison.

(Five Vermeers.)

raising hundreds of millions to build a new wing is apparently easier than finding the $6-10 million year to help keep the museum accessible.

This is true, though. You think the Kochs would pay for poors to visit the museum when they could build hideous 80s-style monuments to their greatness in the courtyard instead?

(I really hate those fountains. I look forward to being a feisty ninety-year-old who insists on leaving the home for the day to see the opening of the Future New Plaza of Luxury Gay Space Communism.)
posted by praemunire at 1:11 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure there is another major Western art museum that offers completely free admission.

In DC, the National Gallery of Art, the Sculpture Garden, and the East Wing, as well as the Smithsonian's art museums: the Hirshhorn, National Museum of African Art, Sackler Gallery, Freer Gallery, American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Renwick. All free.
posted by tavella at 1:36 AM on January 7 [17 favorites]


Like many others, I visited because someone told me it was free. Mr. Moonlight and I looked at some Egyptian art.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 2:35 AM on January 7


the $24.29 ticket cost for an IMAX movie at the AMC Theater on 42nd St

oh man it's not even a real imax screen so you're being ripped off twice
posted by poffin boffin at 3:36 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


The National Gallery, etc. charge for exhibits. I'm not sure there is another major Western art museum that offers completely free admission.

But there's so much free stuff that you will have got bored and gone for afternoon tea before needing to spend any money on art.
posted by biffa at 3:58 AM on January 7


I'm not sure there is another major Western art museum that offers completely free admission.

All of the museums under the aegis of Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales are free to enter. (The Cathays Park/Cardiff site has the largest art collection; they're not quite getting Rembrandts in, but their collection is solid and beautiful. And they host Artes Mundi every few years, so it's not just established artists.) I believe all of the national museums in Scotland are free as well.

Most of the museums in Philadelphia have pay-what-you-want days (as do most of them in NYC); though not ideal, if you plan carefully, you can get in for cheap/free. (I have Opinions about the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but they've got a broad, deep collection in there. And the Barnes has probably the greatest collection of Impressionist art in the world.)

You think the Kochs would pay for poors to visit the museum when they could build hideous 80s-style monuments to their greatness in the courtyard instead?

Heh, you're right, which is why I want to make it clear that the following rant is in no way directed at you!

THAT'S WHAT MUSEUMS WERE INVENTED FOR.

Seriously. The modern idea of the museum (as opposed to a storehouse of looted art maintained exclusively for use of students/those invited to the site, a la a wunderkammer), at least in the West, comes out of that Victorian drive to Improve the Masses. You had to be the right kind of masses, but you could get a ticket, promise not to show up drunk, and be let into the British Museum to take in the (looted) wonders of the world. It was paternalistic, as the Victorians so often were, but at least it took in the idea that museums, these expressions of what is important to us and how well tell our own stories, are for everyone. Everyone deserved access to the treasures of the world, and everyone deserved the chance to learn and fall in love with art or sculpture or whatever. Sir John Soane was in no way letting a working-class toff into his house of treasures.

I've seen it from working back of house in museums -- they're not for everyone anymore. They sort of try, but the people who get jobs in museums are generally middle-class white people, and they create museums for middle- and upper middle-class white people. (Note: Yes, this is a sweeping generalization, but it's rooted in objective truth. Look at who actually uses museums; it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the reflection of the communities that surround the museum.) There are well-meaning outreach projects and education projects and internships; some of them work. Most don't. Museums are no longer for everyone, no matter what most of them claim, and this is just another symptom of that. (languagehat's comment says this all far more elegantly than I have here, but having worked in museums until this year, this is part of the reason I'm not that sad to be leaving the sector.)
posted by kalimac at 5:15 AM on January 7 [10 favorites]


ardegee:

The MoMA costs $25, which kept me from visiting on one of my rare trips to NYC, because I was only going to be able to stay for about an hour and a half, and spending $16/hour for a visit felt ridiculous, even it it meant being able to kill time around some of the cultural touchstones of the 20th century.

Yeah, this is such a weird decision to have to make, and I find it turns a museum/gallery into a place I’ll only visit when I have a full day to get real value. I’ve learned so much and had such good experiences visiting (Dublin and London most of all) to kill an hour, to spend my lunch breaks from a horrible temp job, to spend the morning before I have to travel home... I wouldn’t have done any of those if the institutions charged a fee for every visit. It’s an incredible gift to facilitate a low-income family or a temp drowning in debt being equal to a billionaire in accessing works of art, and it’s a pity that munificence isn’t seen as a priority.
posted by carbide at 5:21 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


Well, I wished I’d seen kalimac’s excellent comment hitting some of the paternalistic-but-open territory I was thinking about, before posting.
posted by carbide at 5:24 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I once read an interview with the prior director who said that the museum thought the suggested admission should be roughly equivalent to the cost of a movie ticket. It's not the most outlandish comparison.

I would hazard, though, that that interview was given at a time when movie tickets had roughly one price. I spent about $7.50 to see Star Wars (in Manhattan, before someone condescendingly tells me "things cost more in NYC")--no IMAX, no 3D or whatever, first show of the day. If you asked me what a movie ticket costs, I'd probably say $15, but I don't really know--I was felt priced out of movies at one point and didn't resume going when that changed. I'm certainly not wrong, nor is someone who says $25 because they always pay for IMAX, but it ceases to be a meaningful comparison for Met admission.
posted by hoyland at 5:51 AM on January 7


The Cleveland Museum of Art is free as well.
posted by oceano at 6:28 AM on January 7


Who goes to see movies in theaters any more? A museum admission should cost the same as a month of Netflix.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:36 AM on January 7


Netflix basic membership for viewing on one screen costs $8/month, or $96/year. Membership at the Met for one member plus adult guest plus kids is $80-$100/year. It's the smaller amount if you live more than 200 mi away from the Met.
posted by grouse at 7:16 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


The modern idea of the museum (as opposed to a storehouse of looted art maintained exclusively for use of students/those invited to the site, a la a wunderkammer), at least in the West, comes out of that Victorian drive to Improve the Masses

Then again, Imperial Rome had numerous art repositories open to the public.

As to the Met- yes, it's annoying, but look at it this way- you're in New York for the day with twenty five bucks and a desire for truly world class diversion exclusive to NY. What are your options? Not Broadway. Not even off Broadway. Not concerts. 9/11 Memorial will set you back $24. The Empire State Building starts at $37. Statue of Liberty, $25. The Frick (arguably the finest small art collection in the world) is a comparable $22.00 for adults (Tuesday are pay what you like). Some of the minor museums, of course, are somewhat cheaper but they tend to be small and of particular interest. You no longer can visit the NYStock Exchange at all.

Moreover, the Met's one price gets you access to The Met Breuer and the Cloisters. Moreover, if you can get to Manhattan more than twice a year, a hundred dollars gets you unlimited admission with a friend.

Relatively speaking, not that bad. Especially given that the policy only applies to out of towners.

(I make the same argument for buying books vs going to movies. Dollar per minute, depending on the movie and the book, books are the better deal.)
posted by BWA at 7:22 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


I am furious about this decision, but when the Met is talking about being " the only major museum in the world that relies exclusively on a pure pay-as-you-wish system or that does not receive the majority of its funding from the government" they are talking about the category that includes the Louvre, the Tate, the Prado, not the (wonderful!) smaller, more regional attractions.

The scope of the Met is somewhat unique to the U.S.; it's twice the size of the closest runner-up (Art Institute of Chigago).
posted by lalex at 7:27 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


> The Frick (arguably the finest small art collection in the world) is a comparable $22.00 for adults (Tuesday are pay what you like).

Oh yeah, I forgot about the Frick—that may have been even more important to me than the Met. It was like an art education in a box: a small enough collection that I could get to know it intimately, and so well arranged that I didn't need a guide to explain what was going on—my eyes and brain were enough, and I could go to the Met and use my newly educated eye to navigate that terrifyingly comprehensive collection. If you're in NYC and have a free afternoon, go to the Frick!
posted by languagehat at 7:42 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


People are generally aware of the Met and MOMA, so the Frick is top on my list of "other" museums for visitors. It's a personal collection, assembled by Henry Clay Frick, and housed in his estate which is just really neat to walk around. Also more Vermeers, if you're into that kind of thing ;). Less eccentric but not dissimilar to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston.
posted by lalex at 7:49 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


I’m so sad about this, since we moved out of New York largely because we didn’t feel we could afford to raise our family there. I visited the Met constantly as a kid with my folks, and then as a teenager, because it was free. I went on a date there when I was maybe 16! When we visit we’ll still bring the family but it’s going to be a big chunk of change.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:58 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Great post.

Paying for museums isn't necessarily a terrible thing. Charging tourists more than locals is something I typically support. (To be fair, it's a lot easier to justify when it comes to people who've arrived on international flights to Mexico City than when people from Allentown take the bus into Manhattan.)

But, if your non-profit organization with a $200M annual budget, billions in liquid assets, and hundreds of billions in collection value thinks a gate fee is a good long term bugetary solution, it's time to quit your job. And then it's time for the board to hire someone who's willing to seriously consider deacquisition.

There are lots of answers to "what is a museum for?" Hoarding rich people's least interesting paintings forever, whether or not scholars care about them or anybody can see them, would be a lot lower on my list than making great art accessible to everyone. Or providing resources for emerging artists. Or arts education programming. Or, frankly, space for bicycle parking.
posted by eotvos at 8:59 AM on January 7 [9 favorites]


In DC, the National Gallery of Art

Sorry, I carelessly left out the word "private." Some state-sponsored museums, obviously, have (and even more compellingly should have) private admissions.

If you asked me what a movie ticket costs, I'd probably say $15, but I don't really know

$16.29, plus, if you buy the ticket online, a $1.75 "convenience fee," so, as a practical matter, about $18. It's cut down on my new-release movie-going considerably. I have to use Costco bulk tickets (~$10.75) to justify it, most of the time. But Met admissions are competitively-priced within that context. The Frick has been mentioned (and it is a world-class collection, although the institution is not, as a whole, a wonder the way the Gardner is). The Morgan Library, where you can see a Gutenberg Bible and a First Folio, is $20 (free admission Friday evenings). The Museum of Natural History is $23; technically, it's pay-as-you-wish for general admission only (no exhibits, movies, etc.), but, from experience, they are bitchy about it. Heck, a fast-casual burger, fries, and drink will run you ~$15.

Moreover, if you can get to Manhattan more than twice a year, a hundred dollars gets you unlimited admission with a friend.

They have just rejiggered membership so that all members can bring a guest free. Starts at $80. Though that still leaves the break-even point at two visits for two.
posted by praemunire at 11:25 AM on January 7


Remember when the NEA stopped funding in the 90s and assured everyone that Philanthropy would pick up the slack? Kind of like Compassionate Conservativism but less successful.
posted by Fupped Duck at 12:52 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


ha! yes, thecjm, it was a special exhibit admission price. Now I think about it, aside from the local museums I have memberships with, I tend to buy special exhibition tickets or event tickets, rather than just admission.
posted by crush at 1:56 PM on January 7


As others have said, it's not so much the entrance fee itself as the fact it's a number that is clearly a fuck you poors price. It's a number that is meant to tell them this is not for them, even if they were able to scrape up the money. Sure, the canny may know the secret ways to get in free, but a large number will be simply intimidated and feel unwelcome.
posted by tavella at 2:43 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


The new policy also sparked broader discussion of the role of restricted gifts, as museums like the Met expand their collections and facilities and build $2.5 billion endowments while struggling to meet operating costs.

This is a problem for every nonprofit, and frankly donor foundations choose to remain willfully blind to the massive operational problems it creates so that they can keep nonprofits on a short leash and better control their work. It sucks.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:27 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


The old policy had a sort of reverse-psychological effect on me. I payed nothing as a college student, maybe $5 as a graduate student, and most recently payed $20 as a post-doc. And I walked away with my ticket thinking about how happy I'll be to pay the full $25 someday. Then I'll have really made it.
posted by MrBobinski at 5:33 PM on January 7


Thank you for the post. We, four of us, have just returned from a once in a lifetime visit to NYC and visited the Met, MoMA, and the Frick. We paid $25 each so that is a total of $300 for the three museums. Coming from New Zealand where we rarely get to see great works of art, we felt the price was well worth it. Expensive yes, but worth it. I will remember the art we saw much, much longer than the money we spent.

The Frick was our favourite museum actually: small enough to see comfortably in an hour but nonetheless with a large number of exquisite artwork. The audio guide was excellent. I get that the Met has a different role in the cultural life of New York and so the question of entrance fee is a sensitive one.

But actually bothered us much, much more than the price at the Met - which we knew was voluntary - was what zachlipton alluded by noting the "questionable provenance of various antiquities in the Met's collection". There were objects of Māori art and culture that were frankly stolen from the indigenous people of New Zealand, and to see them described as "collected", as if they were parcels picked up at the local Post Office, was insulting and offensive. But I get the rabbit-hole that debate leads to.
posted by vac2003 at 5:59 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


Vac2003, the British Museum has a whalebone mere with a documented tribal provenance in display right now collected in the 19th century and I was startled by how much helpless rage and grief I felt standing there seeing something so important - beyond art - on impersonal foreign display. We refused to see the Elgin marbles this time.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:34 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


it's a number that is clearly a fuck you poors price

$25 has been the suggested admission for a couple years now at least. The new policy does not change that. From a practical POV, I wonder if this change in policy won't make the Met more open to lower-income people in NYC, at least those with ID. "Suggested admission" can be hard to decipher. This change is inevitably going to mean more messaging that the Met is actually free to state residents (since they'll have to distinguish).

For ideological reasons, I strongly prefer the old policy. But the change means that the Met will primarily be charging tourists: people who already have the disposable income to be traveling for leisure. The Met's community, in NYC and NY state, still gets in free. NJ and CT students will still get free admission. If you can't afford a $25 admissions ticket to a museum, you are probably not traveling in from out of state for fun in the first place. Honestly, in terms of groups affected, I'm more concerned about how a requirement to demonstrate residency may unintentionally deter undocumented residents than about charging tourists.

Anyway, I hope everyone who is angry about this change is supporting their local art institutions, out of their own pockets and/or by pushing for more government funding. Part of what's happening here is that NYC is diverting some of its cultural funding to other, smaller institutions. Increasing support to those institutions is probably a good idea...if someone's got to raise more funds (either through development or through increasing admissions charges), the Met is clearly better-suited to it than one of the smaller institutions that serves a more limited group. But, either way, culture isn't cheap.
posted by praemunire at 10:11 AM on January 8 [3 favorites]


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