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Out-of-Towner Downer: Metropolitan Museum Considers a Xenophobic Admission Policy

Saul Steinberg‘s famous New Yorker cover portraying how Manhattanites view the rest of the world came to mind when I read Robin Pogrebin‘s NY Times article about the Metropolitan Museum’s tentative (to my mind, wrongheaded) proposal to discriminate against out-of-towners in charging admission fees.

Especially at a time when our President is fueling his supporters’ xenophobia, the last thing we need is to make foreigners (let alone fellow citizens) feel less welcome at our country’s premier repository for world culture by instituting a two-tier admissions structure. This foreign extortion would give new meaning to “cultural exchange.”

The Met admissions desk, with Angela Conner’s 2009 bust of former director Philippe de Montebello in background (on right)
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

I myself took umbrage, some years ago, at Russian institutions’ practice of surcharging foreigners—a policy that my family sometimes circumvented when our then teenage son, using his rudimentary high-school Russian, executed our ticket transactions. (I’m sure he fooled nobody, but they appreciated his effort.)

Just imagine how this Met sign will look with an added out-of-towners category: “The amount you pay is up to you…unless you live outside New York.”

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

There are two U.S. art museum I can think of (there may be others) with an admissions policy that privileges locals: The Detroit Institute of Arts now offers free admission to residents of three local counties, as payback for their 2012 passage of a millage to help support the then endangered museum’s operations. Unlike the Met’s collections, a large portion of the DIA’s collection was owned by the city, and the possibility of monetizing masterpieces to satisfy the city’s creditors was on the table. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Also privileging locals is the Art Institute of Chicago (click “Admission Information” tab). More details on the AIC’s 2009 change in admission pricing, here.

I fully understand the Met’s imperative to find new ways to increase revenues and cut expenses. In a previous post about its perilous financial state, I predicted that we might soon see an end to the museum’s admirable, long-standing policy of not charging extra for admission to major special exhibitions, as many museums currently do. I also speculated that the museum might reinstitute its previous economy measure of rotating gallery closures (saving some money on guards).

“All we’re doing is exploring,” Met president and acting CEO Daniel Weiss told Pogrebin. Fair enough. But the notion of an out-of-towner fee is a trial balloon that ought to be shot down.

an ArtsJournal blog