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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Met raises its rates for out-of-state visitors

The trouble with high admission fees to museums is that artists can’t afford them.


The Fortune Teller, 1630, Georges de La Tour, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
The most loosely-held secret in the city of New York was that the admission fee of $25 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was “suggested.” Visitors could, in fact, pay whatever they wanted. That policy will end on March 1, when out-of-state visitors will be required to fork over the full amount. (Schoolkids from neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey will be exempt.)

There won’t be separate lines for visiting and local residents—at least for now. “We can always make the rules more strict,” Daniel Weiss, the Met’s CEO, told the New York Times, “but I’m hoping we don’t have to.”

The Met sees an average of seven million visitors a year. Of these, only 17% pay the full fee. That’s down from 2004, when 63% paid the whole thing. A highly-publicized lawsuit, brought by two Czech tourists and a disgruntled tourist, brought the museum’s admission policy into the public eye in 2016. They claimed the museum was bamboozling patrons into thinking the admission was mandatory. The people at the desk were—I think—trained to scowl bitterly whenever someone’s ‘suggested’ donation was less than the full amount.

Heart of the Andes, 1859, Frederic Edwin Church, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
If you’re old enough, you remember when the Met was free (before 1971).

Currently the Met takes in about $43 million a year. That’s expected to increase to $49 million, or by $6 million per year. In other words, in ten years or so, the new policy will bring in a little less than the $65 million David Koch spent to build the new fountains at the building’s façade.

Of course, those numbers are a guess, since nobody currently counts who’s from New York and who’s from Maine.

Boaters, 1874, Édouard Manet, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met is in financial trouble right now. The City of New York owns its building and provides $26 million a year in funding support. That amount has been static or falling in recent years. To close the gap, the Met is considering selling its executive co-op at 993 Fifth Avenue. That’s currently occupied by the former director, Thomas Campbell, who resigned eleven months ago and hasn’t yet been replaced. Nobody can say for sure how much that sale would net, but it’s likely to be in the tens of millions.

Then there’s the Met Breuer, a satellite museum of contemporary art, in the former Whitney Museum. That opened in 2016 as part of the Met’s $600 million renovation plan. The lease costs the Met $17 million a year.

Garden at Sainte-Adresse, 1867, Claude Monet, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
Protecting the cultural resources of western civilization adds up, especially when it’s done in a white-glove manner. I love the Met; it's one of the world's cultural jewels. I’ll go see the Michelangelo drawings before they close, and I’ll pony up their $25 fee to do so. But I’ll no longer be stopping by to draw on a rainy day, and I’ll visit less often.

Most working artists are not wealthy, but they need access to great art to learn about their craft. For us, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has a far friendlier scheme. There you can pay $35 a year for a membership, if you can prove (with a postcard or other literature) that you’re a currently working artist. 

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