In April 2017, The New York Times reported that The Met was deliberating over the possibility of charging mandatory admission to out-of-towners—a restrictive prospect that critics hoped would not come to fruition. The museum’s “suggested” admission prices have made it one of New York City’s most accessible institutions; but an announcement on January 4 confirmed that, for the first time in 50 years, visitors from out of state will have to pay up.
For access to one of the country’s premier art institutions, non-New Yorkers will have to pay a mandatory admission price of $25 for adults, $17 for seniors, and $12 for students, starting on March 1 of this year. The decision has immediately become a hot topic of debate, with the news coming as a blow mainly to visitors from neighboring states who have long enjoyed the museum’s unusual pay-what-you-wish policy.
The Met stands as the country’s most widely-attended museum, accommodating over seven million annual visitors for the last two years in a row. And it’s no surprise that The Met is the most popular American art institution—it houses one of the most expansive, enviable collections of art and artifacts in the world. Furthermore, its constantly-rotating program of exhibitions spans not one, but three large spaces across Manhattan: the original Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer (for exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century art), and The Met Cloisters, where some 5,000 works of medieval artworks and artifacts are housed.
According to a New York Times article from January 4, it costs an astounding $305 million to keep The Met afloat each year. Layoffs and programming cutbacks have subsequently ensued from the resulting $10 million deficit. While The Met is primarily funded by private donors and taxpayer dollars, with help from the City (who own The Met’s Fifth Avenue building), the institution’s decision-makers argue that this new admissions structure was the only means of ensuring upkeep and program sustainability.
“Over the last 13 years, even as Met attendance has soared from 4.7 million visitors to 7 million, the museum has seen a steep decline in the proportion of visitors who pay the full suggested amount, from 63 percent to 17 percent,” stated the Times. The article also reported that admission fees constitute 14 percent (approximately $43 million) of the museum’s operating budget, and “that figure is expected to increase to 16 or 17 percent—or $49 million—with the policy change.”
Part of the museum’s decision to institute this largely unfavorable policy was rooted in the City’s inconsistent support, which has been subject to change according to a varying budget allotted to the Department of Cultural Affairs. Meanwhile, neighboring—and competing—museums like the Whitney and the MoMA charge mandatory admission prices of $25 for adults, affording both spaces a reliable revenue stream.
But opposers are grieving the forthcoming financial burden of visiting a museum that, in a perfect world, would be accessible to anyone and everyone with an appreciation for art. The concern is less for international tourists—assuming that $25 is less of a financial strain to those who can afford to vacation in New York City—but rather for, say, the family of five, visiting from a city or town out of state, who can no longer afford the pilgrimage to see their favorite masterpieces.
Those who are charged mandatory admission will at least be granted access to all three of The Met’s location for three consecutive days—a seemingly small stipulation, but it cushions the blow. In addition, The Met’s current suggested admission policy will continue for students in the Tri-State area.
What remains to be seen is how the new policy will impact foot traffic on a national and international scale. According to artnet news, “the museum estimates that the new policy will affect 31 percent of museum visitors. The vast majority—80 percent—of these visitors are making their first visit to New York or come less than once a year. [The Met’s president and CEO Daniel] Weiss said the updated policy will have ‘little to no impact on frequent visitors.'”
The museum’s decision is not without logic, but the way in which The Met has justified their new policy that has proved inherently problematic. In response, The New York Times co-chief art critic Roberta Smith poses an imperative argument: “I worry that the Met’s plan is classist, and nativist. It divides people into categories—rich and poor, native and foreign—which is exactly what this country does not need right now.”
The Met’s decision is indeed a sobering turn of events. At its famous terraced entrance, a financial barrier will soon restrict those of lesser means from learning, exploring, and fundamentally benefitting from everything it has to offer. Since the 1970s, The Met has been an equal opportunity experience because the art within its walls is for everyone to enjoy—or at least, it was.