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Metropolitan Museum Boasts Record Attendance; Attributes Deficit, in Part, to Younger Demographics CORRECTED

Is an increase in young visitors too much of a good thing?

The Metropolitan Museum late yesterday issued an upbeat press release that painted a much rosier picture of attendance figures than my doom-and-gloom post and accompanying video yesterday about the seemingly under-attended Met Breuer:

Yesterday at Met Breuer's almost deserted, sculpture-less sculpture garden Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Yesterday at Met Breuer’s almost deserted sculpture garden
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The museum announced that it had “welcomed a record number of visitors—6.7 million—during the fiscal year that ended on June 30. This is the highest number of visitors since the Met began tracking admission statistics more than 40 years ago.” What’s more, the Met Breuer’s attendance for its inaugural four months totaled 185,000. (Visitors who attended two or three Met facilities on the same day were counted two or three times towards the 6.7-million total visitorship, a spokesperson told me, in response to my query.)

But the Met’s COO went and spoiled the party, in comments to the NY TimesRobin Pogrebin. Robin wrote:

The Met said recently that its deficit of about $10 million [sic]—which necessitated a recent round of buyouts and layoffs-—was the result of several factors, including an increase in younger visitors who pay less at the door. [Emphasis added.]

[As I reported several weeks ago, the Met’s revised estimate for the fiscal ’16 deficit was not (as Robin reports) “about $10 million.” That was the estimate as of last April. Late-breaking “cost-cutting measures” (in the words of a Met spokesperson) shaved the actual deficit to $8 million.]

A decline of “30 to 40 cents per person is material,” Daniel H. Weiss, the Met’s president and chief operating officer, said in April.

The Metropolitan Museum's 5th Avenue lobby yesterday Screenshot from CultureGrrl Video

Metropolitan Museum’s 5th Avenue lobby yesterday
Screenshot from CultureGrrl Video

Museum officials aren’t apt to complain about increases in the coveted younger audience. Weiss’ comment, coupled with the obvious need to boost earned income, leads me to suspect that we may soon see an end to this admirable, long-standing Met policy:

No extra charge for any exhibition.

About three weeks ago, when I asked if there were any plans to revise that policy for highly important shows, or to reinstitute the museum’s previous economy measure of rotating gallery closures (saving money on guards), a Met spokesperson replied:

There are no imminent plans [emphasis added] for closures or changes to admissions.

I’d take that to mean, “Never say ‘never.'”

The spokesperson also reiterated the Met’s broader economic plan:

Now that the voluntary retirement program has been completed, upcoming steps toward achieving the target goal of reducing the FY ’17 budget by 10% include: continuing to build our revenue streams; reducing our operating costs through careful evaluation of many of our policies and procedures; and finally, there will need to be involuntary staff reductions [emphasis added].

Involuntary terminations were Plan B, if the money saved from voluntary buyouts and other deficit-cutting measures were deemed insufficient. During our extensive conversation back in April, Weiss had told me:

I don’t believe we’ll have to do significant involuntary staff reductions.

But as reported last month by Jennifer Smith of the Wall Street Journal, only “about 56 staffers have accepted early-retirement packages—about 35% of those eligible….[The Met] may ultimately shed more than 100 of its 2,300 staff positions—through a combination of buyouts and layoffs….Mr. Weiss said between 40% to 50% of the vacated positions would likely be refilled “because they’re essential.”

The Met has repeatedly said that “what we are doing is not noticeable to the public” (in Weiss’ words to the WSJ’s Smith). But in a statement emailed to me, Met director Tom Campbell conceded that “we will be looking to reduce the large number of exhibitions and installations that we currently schedule.”

Tom Campbell, speaking in front of 1787 portrait of doomed Marie Antoinette and her children, at the Met's Vigée Le Brun press preview Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Tom Campbell, speaking in front of 1787 portrait of doomed Marie Antoinette and her children, at the Met’s Vigée Le Brun press preview
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Campbell added:

{We] will not be compromising on quality or, when appropriate, scale. Large, scholarly, ground-breaking, beautiful exhibitions have long been part of the DNA of the Metropolitan Museum and we have every intention of continuing that critical aspect of our educational mission.”

That said, my guess is that we’ll be seeing fewer of what Campbell calls, “only-at-the-Met exhibitions”—deeply researched, comprehensive mega-shows with masterpieces drawn from a wide variety of international lenders. Taking another page from the Great Recession playbook, the Met may decide to mount more shows drawn from its permanent collection.

If such changes are “not noticeable to the public,” then we haven’t been paying attention.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said that Pogrebin’s NY Times piece did not appear in yesterday’s hardcopy version of the newspaper. It did—in the “Movies|Performances” section, not in the separate “Fine Arts” section, where I had looked.

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