Two Met Members Sue Museum for “Continuing to Deceive and Defraud the Public” Over Admission Fees

by Hrag Vartanian on November 15, 2012

Ok, we may think high museum admission fees are ridiculous but this new suit by two longtime Metropolitan Museum of Art members is over the top.

Two plaintiffs, Theodore Grunewald and Patricia Nicholson, according to The New York Post, say that “they — and untold millions of others — were duped into paying for admission or memberships because the institution has done such a good job of hiding the fact that it’s supposed to be free six days a week.”

“Instead of providing free and open access to art for the masses, without regard to socioeconomic status (as originally designed), the MMA has transformed the museum building and museum exhibition halls into an expensive, fee-for-viewing, elite tourist attraction, where only those of financial means can afford to enter a publicly subsidized, city-owned institution,” the suit says.

Yes, the admission to the Met is “suggested” — and written in a rather small typeface — but what do you expect the museum to do, write “IT’S FREE!” in big block letters? Hell, we’d feel like  chumps if we gave anything with a sign like that.

This suit, from what we can tell, is the ultimate in legal trolling but we shouldn’t be surprised. This is America after all.

Next, let’s go after the city parks for not making it clear when we CAN walk on the grass. Damn, enviro-fascists!

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  • Will Prinn

    Write ‘FREE’ in big block letters, you say? Well, I guess not every museum can be as awesome as the BMA…

  • Mark

    Artist fee, 5 cents.

  • Jeffrey Collins

    Just more wastes of taxpayer money to file a frivolous lawsuit. I feel sorry for the judge who has to throw this care out, because their time could be better spent putting criminals in jail.

  • Zach Alan

    curious: what percentage of the MET’s overall budget comes from admission? weren’t they in the red just recently, or no?

    also – I have to admit: I’ve noticed that they don’t make it so clear it could be free, and thought “good for them for fleecing the tourists to fund the museum – these people would just spend it at olive garden instead. NYCers know better – it’s like a culture tax on tourism”

    • Chicken_Fingers

      This assumes people go to the museum regardless of what it charges. The $25 is likely prohibitive for lots of people (including me, an artist in NYC), so they do something else instead. Tourists should know they can afford to see some of the world’s greatest art regardless of their budget, which is why I took my family there last weekend – and not the MoMA, Gugg, Frick, Whitney, etc. – and they loved it.

  • jessica

    to be fair the met IS a little shady about the “donation”. it is advertised being free with student id, and randomly has specific days and times promoted as free. why do this if it is always free? also, last time i was there, a special line was set up for free admission, and that admission did not include all exhibits.

  • Jadeleah

    Art needs to be accessible to everyone. This lawsuit, even if it never goes to court, highlights the need for public institutions to be just that, open to the public.

  • Hrag Vartanian

    Good point.

  • John d’Addario

    Technically, except on designated days and times, the Met has never been free – the policy since at least the 1960s has been “pay what you want but you must pay something”. (And as far as I know that admission is good for both the permanent collection and special exhibitions.) Still, that policy has been made less and less prominent over the years, both in the Met’s publicity materials and on the admission desk signs – so if this lawsuit draws attention to that fact, it’s not completely frivolous.

  • samthor

    has anyone ever been denied entry to a museum if they couldn’t “donate” the $20?
    if so, you’d definitely have a lawsuit….

    • Hrag Vartanian

      Nope. I don’t believe that has ever happened.

  • Shant Madjarian

    I usually pay $20 for two, and I always get looks by people wondering why I am dictating a price. I feel the policy is not well understood. The issue is one of misrepresentation, and I think it is too bad that a museum needs to resort to “manipulating” people into believing it is an admission fee of $25. Maybe the problem is a lack of public funding for the arts or all public services for that matter. When you see adds on the subway asking people to donate to the fire department and public schools, you know that the city (country) is moving into some kind of voluntary taxation system to make ends meet. I feel they do this by touching people’s emotional sensibilities; guilt for not paying for the arts, your kids education, or altruistic firemen.

  • Judith Wilson-Pates

    I learned about the Met policy in 1971, shortly after I started visiting the museum. A starving artist I was dating (he was homeless and slept on a colleague’s work table) coughed up a single penny when we went through admissions. I was startled/ embarrassed, the woman collecting donations protested, but my artist friend stuck to his guns and pointed to the word “suggested” next to “donation.” As a result, during my own subsequent years as a semi-starving student, publishing drone, then freelance writer, the Met was the Manhattan museum I frequented the most. I don’t consider this lawsuit trivial or cynical, even though I can and do pay full price at museums now.

  • Michael Hiller

    It’s not clear what the author’s message here is. Is the author’s point that, yes, the Museum is defrauding the public, but that it would be stupid for the Museum not to do it? I’m the lawyer on this so-called “over-the-top lawsuit” which the author of this article doesn’t seem to understand. The Metropolitan Museum is located in a public building, maintained and repaired with the use of public monies, built with public funds, furnished and fully equipped with the use of taxpayer money, staffed with security guards paid for by the public, and used by the Museum rent free. Every year, the Museum receives millions in public subsidies paid for by the taxpayers. The Museum is, in every sense of the word, a public institution. In exchange for all of the public funding and other benefits received from the City and its taxpayers, the Museum agreed, and the NYS Legislature passed a law, requiring that the Museum be free and open to the public five days and two evenings a week. Yet, the Museum has imposed an admissions fee akin to charging for entry into the NY Public Library or a courthouse. Worse, the Museum has been deceptive about its policy; yes, the word “recommended” appears on a sign, but it’s in print so small that hardly anyone can see it. And the word “recommended” doesn’t pertain to the admission fee — only the amount. This violates the Museum’s lease and a NY Law which was honored for nearly 100 years until the Museum started disregarding it. The Museum is supposed to be free so that the citizenry, regardless of socio-economic station, can enjoy it. Instead, the Museum has engaged in a pattern of deceptive behavior to hide the fact that it is violating its lease and the law. This case is the real deal. And, when it is over, the public will benefit substantially from its outcome.

  • Slade Stumbo

    I only recently became aware of the lawsuit. I am a bit uncomfortable with the idea of suing a cultural institution. However, the Met is undoubtedly being shady in their approach to the admissions policy. I would like to point out that the “suggested” admission is not only written in tiny script, it is absent on some signage. While the admissions “suggested” fees are listed above the stations where the visitors actually pay, the visitors are preconditioned to believe that the fees are mandatory by more visible signs in the lobby that makes no mention whatsoever of a “suggested” “donation.” Furthermore, the attendants often ask for the full price. I think we should give as much money as possible to institutions such as the Met. However, anyone or anything needs to be humbled when they turn to deception, however honorable the rest of their pursuits may be.

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