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Pay to See: Court Upholds Metropolitan Museum’s “Recommended Admissions” Policy

Name your price: A quiet moment at the Met's ticket counter Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Name Your Price: Quiet moment at the Met’s ticket counter
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

As I’ve previously indicated, I think the court made the right decision.

This just in from the “delighted” Metropolitan Museum. [The links are mine, not theirs.]:

Today, Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich of the Commercial Division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled in favor of The Metropolitan Museum of Art by granting its motion to dismiss claims that the Museum’s longstanding pay-what-you-wish admissions policy violates both its 1878 lease with the City and a State appropriations act from 1893. The following is a statement from the Museum on this decision.]

(October 30, 2013)—The Met is delighted with the ruling and trusts this decision once and for all validates its longtime pay-what-you wish admissions policy—which, as the judge has declared, guarantees fairness and access for visitors of all economic means.

In describing the Museum’s existing admissions policy, the judge said: “All members of the public can afford to visit the Museum under the present scheme.”

The court also made reference to the recent lease amendment executed by the Museum and the City of New York, noting that “not only does it not alter the analysis in this decision, if anything, it bolsters the court’s ruling.”

I’m all in favor of free admission at institutions that don’t feel an economic need to charge. But for the many that do, the Met’s longtime policy of a recommended admission fee strikes the most enlightened balance: It allows visitors to decide for themselves how much they will fork over at the cash register, based upon their mental calculations of how much the museum means to them and how much they can afford to give.

That said, the wording and typesize of the Met’s signage should make it clear and obvious that the amount paid is indeed discretionary, and that the impecunious are as welcome as the well-heeled.

Judge Kornreich apparently sees merit in that argument. Unmentioned in the Met’s press release, but noted in Randy Kennedy‘s NY Times report on the ruling, is that “another part of both cases, alleging that the museum misrepresents itself, misleading visitors—through signage and website information—into thinking they must pay the full $25 fee, will proceed before the court.”

The Met should just take care of that now, without waiting to be forced into greater clarity by a judge’s edict. What’s more, I still believe that the Met should change its recommended admission for those under 18 to little or (preferably) nothing, because young people—the audiences that all forward-looking museums need to cultivate—are the most likely to feel intimidated at the gate by a “recommended” fee. At present, children under 12 (accompanied by an adult) are free; recommended admission for students is $12.

In this regard, this recently publicized episode at the Brooklyn Museum is a strongly cautionary tale.

My own frequent unaccompanied visits to the Met as a NYC public school student (back in the good old days when admission was free to all) began in my early adolescence, when I’d leave the Bronx by subway and crosstown bus to immerse myself in world culture. All young students should be encouraged and enticed to have that experience.

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