Today the Metropolitan Museum’s director and CEO Thomas P. Campbell published a message on the institution’s website in response to a pair of lawsuits targeting the museum’s method of implementing its by-donation admission policy. In it he makes clear that the institution is no longer legally required to be free, as it was following a 19th-century decree, and that its pay-what-you-want admission policy is plainly posted at all museum entrances, in all pertinent paper materials, and online.
The main points of his message address the accusations leveled by the group that filed the lawsuit and explain why the institution asks for admission:
First and most crucially, a recommended or suggested admission structure was instituted only after the Museum received approval from New York City’s Administrator of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs more than four decades ago. No current State legislation requires the Museum to be free to the public.
Second, the recommended admission policy is clearly posted at all entry points to the Museum’s Main Building and The Cloisters, on all printed materials, and on our website. Should a visitor ask a cashier about the admission policy, the message is always equally clear: the amount is voluntary; please pay what you wish.
So why did the Met introduce suggested contributions in the early 1970s? We hope the answer is obvious to anyone who remembers the Museum as it once was. The Met is now twice the size and must fund the maintenance of far more expansive galleries and a significantly larger collection, visited by three or four times as many people. Our costs—everything from guards to insurance to publications—have increased commensurately with this growth.
Even so, the Met has never imposed a fixed admission fee. Nor do we ever charge an extra fee to visit any of our world-renowned special exhibitions.
Campbell goes on to point out that many other museums in the city, even those with such voluntary admission policies, will charge admission for special exhibitions, which the Met does not. He also includes some interesting numbers about the museum’s finances, like its annual operating budget ($250 million), and that “even if future Museum admission rates were fixed at $25, the Met would still be underwriting the expense of every visit, which on average costs the institution more than $40.”
— Benjamin Sutton
(Photo via Metropolitan Museum/Facebook.)