The Metropolitan Museum of Art has moved one step closer to mandatory admission fees: It filed a formal proposal with the city this week to charge admission to out-of-state visitors, a lawyer revealed in a court hearing on Friday, a controversial idea given that the Met is in part supported by tax dollars and currently has only a “suggested” entrance fee.
The suggested fee would be “only for residents of the City of New York and New York State,” Bruce R. Kelly of Arnold & Porter, a lawyer for the Met, said in New York Supreme Court Friday. “For everyone else, the admission would be mandatory.”
The proposal must be approved by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio administration because the city owns the Met building. Asked for his reaction, Tom Finkelpearl, the city’s commissioner of cultural affairs, said in a statement: “We will review it carefully. The city is committed to working with the Met to ensure that its unrivaled collection and programming remain accessible to all New Yorkers.”
The hearing before Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich was held to approve a settlement reached last year over the Met’s admissions policy; two lawsuits had asserted that the wording on signs at the admissions desks was deceptive and pressured visitors to pay $25 even though, under the museum’s policy, they could pay whatever they wished.Continue reading the main story
Under the settlement, the Met agreed to tell visitors on its signs and websites that “the amount you pay is up to you” and to describe the $25 full-admission charge as “suggested” instead of “recommended.”
The news of the formal proposal for a mandatory admission charge, which the Met was legally obligated to disclose to the plaintiffs, drew criticism from the lawyers involved in the case.
Andrew G. Celli, Jr., of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, which represents one of the plaintiffs, said after the hearing: “The museum should be accessible to all people of every economic level. It is unfortunate that the museum’s leadership feels that it has to ration its availability. There must be a better way — and I urge the Museum’s leadership, and the city’s, to find it.”
Michael S. Hiller, a lawyer for the other plaintiffs, argued in court that charging out-of-towners would violate a 1893 state law mandating that the museum’s collections “shall be kept open and accessible to the public free of all charge throughout the year.”
There are “people who won’t be able to afford it,” Mr. Hiller said.
He also argued that court approval of the settlement would, by extension, represent approval of the Met’s admission fee proposal.
“The court would be authorizing the museum to charge an admission fee,” Mr. Hiller said, adding that this would “violate that law.”
Judge Kornreich said that the issue of mandatory admission fees was not the matter currently before the court, and would have to be resolved subsequently by the government.
“Were the attorney general to bring an action, we’ll deal with it,” Judge Kornreich said.
Facing a deficit that is now about $15 million, the Met has been looking to raise revenue in addition to cutting costs. Money from admission fees would help provide reliable income, though some say it might jeopardize the city’s annual public support to the museum, which is currently about $26 million. Mayor de Blasio said last week that he supports the idea of charging non-New Yorkers and that this infusion of funds would not necessarily mean the city would discontinue its support.
The Met’s current “suggested” admissions fee, $25 for adults, generated about $39 million in the fiscal year 2016, or 13 percent of the museum’s overall revenue. A mandatory fee would be likely to generate tens of millions of dollars more a year.Continue reading the main story