In Brief

Metropolitan Museum May Start Charging Admission to Out-of-Towners

The museum is in talks with municipal officials about potentially charging tourists a mandatory admission fee.

(illustration by the author; Metropolitan Museum photo by Patsy M_/Flickr)
(illustration by the author; Metropolitan Museum photo by Patsy M_/Flickr)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art may soon start charging admission to visitors from outside of New York City. According to a report by Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times, the museum’s president and CEO Daniel H. Weiss confirmed that the institution is in talks with the municipal government about making its “suggested” admission mandatory for visitors from out of town.

Weiss said that he and the museum’s board are “looking at everything to bridge our budget deficit, including the pricing structure we have with the city, which is something we have done throughout our history.”

The Met, which is the best attended museum in the US and has annual operating costs of $332 million, is currently trying to make up a budget deficit of about $15 million. Amid cost-cutting measures including staff layoffs and buyouts, reduced exhibitions programming, and shelved plans for a new modern and contemporary wing, the museum’s director Thomas P. Campbell was pressured into resigning — exposing other complaints against him that go beyond mismanagement.

“We have spoken to the Metropolitan Museum about the possibility of changing its admission structure — not for New Yorkers, but for out of town visitors,” Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, told the New York Post. “Should we receive a formal proposal, we will consider it.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, expressed outright support for the idea at an unrelated press conference yesterday. “If it’s properly implemented to specifically reach non-city residents, yes, I think that would be fair,” he said, according to the Post. “I’m a big fan of Russian oligarchs paying more to get into the Met.”

The museum’s current admission structure, which suggests (but, following a pair of lawsuits, doesn’t “recommend”) a fee of $25 but will accept as little a penny, generated some $39 million for the institution in fiscal year 2016, accounting for about 13% of its revenue for the year. The museum only began accepting entrance fees in 1971; the terms of its original, 1878 lease on its city-owned Fifth Avenue building stipulated that it had to “be kept open and accessible to the public free of charge.” In 2013, the Met and then-mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a lease amendment that “authorizes the museum, should the need arise, to consider a range of admission modifications in future years, subject as in the past to review and approval by the City.”

It’s unclear how the Met would verify visitors’ places of residence in the event the policy were implemented — or how it would even define “out of town visitors,” since many non-residents of the city commute here from neighboring states every day. Currently, 63% of the museum’s roughly 7 million annual visitors come from outside New York State. Charging all of them a mandatory fee could greatly boost the museum’s admissions revenue, but might also affect how much money it receives from the city — currently $26 million a year, the largest sum of taxpayer money any New York City arts institution receives.

Though the move would signal a major policy shift for the museum, it’s consistent with Weiss’s recent managerial track record. Just prior to joining the Met in 2015, during his two-year tenure as the president of Haverford College (a small liberal arts school in suburban Philadelphia), he oversaw the dismantling of the school’s no-loans financial aid policy. As of 2019, the school will offer loans, rather than straight grants, to “students with a family income above $60,000 a year.” Current tuition costs and fees at Harverford total $49,098. Since Weiss’s departure, Haverford has further curtailed its financial aid commitments by ceasing its policy of need-blind admissions.

h/t Lee Rosenbaum

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