The sign says ADMISSION in large letters and lists a charge of $25 for adult visitors. So you must pay $25. No, wait: the small print says, “Recommended” so it’s free but you are asked to volunteer something along the lines of $25. But, that can’t be because it also touts “No extra charge for special exhibitions” — so that means there is a charge for admissions, so…what do you pay?
Well, If you are duped by the large print, you pay $25; if you feel guilty or cheap in the face of the sign and the cashier, you pay $25; and if you are buying tickets online you’ll find that the Met sells them for $25 with no caveat. Only those in the know will pay like a New Yorker, a voluntary fee of anywhere between 1 and ten dollars.
The signage is confusing (and the sales policies more so) and no one doubts that the obfuscation of your right to enter for free is deliberate: the museum would like to make some money.
That is why two recent law-suits brought against the hallowed New York institution in response to it’s deceptive admissions policies reveal that it’s time to interrogate, not just the disingenuous signage, but the entire body of assumptions regarding who the museum and its art belong to, and who should pay for its maintenance.
Two Suits, One Firm, and Harold Holzer
To begin, let’s get some very important facts straight: the Metropolitan Museum resides on Central Park land which it uses free of charge in exchange for its service to the public. The building is leased rent-free from the city under the same stipulation.
“The Met,” says architect Theodore Grunewald, who, along with fellow long-time member Patricia Nicholson, filed a suit in November of last year, “is as much the property of citizens as the trustees who manage the art inside.”
Grunewald and Nicholson argue that the Met’s “recommended” admission charges violate the terms of its 1983 lease with the city which allows the Museum to use the property in exchange for public free admission two evenings and five days a week. But the museum is claiming that city policy changes in the 1970s allowed them to begin charging a voluntary admission fee.
Filed by the law firm, Weiss & Hiller, this suit which is still pending, cites a survey which found that 85 % of nonmembers polled (out of a pool of 360 visitors) thought entry fees were required, and requests that the state court in Manhattan block the Museum from charging any fees at all. Meantime the same law firm has filed a new suit!
Did You Buy Tickets with a Credit Card?
On Tuesday the Met was hit with a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of three visitors, Filip Saska and Tomas Nadrchal of the Czech Republic, and museum member, Stephen Michelman of Manhattan. They are claiming that the Met “engages in an intentional campaign of misdirection that includes misleading signage and fraudulent marketing.” This newest complaint also asks for an injunction, as did the one in November, but adds a request for “unspecified damages” to be payed to all visitors who, in the last three years, paid for admittance with a credit card.
(In other words, if this case goes forward, Met Admission Policies + Ticket Purchase w/ Credit Card w/in last three years = Cluster Fuck)
But while Hiller says, that they have uncovered “evidence which makes clear to us that the museum is actively misleading the public and that members of the museum’s leadership are fully aware of that fact,” the Met’s Senior Vice President of External Affairs, Harold Holzer, has scoffed that this is the “second attempt for publicity around the same baseless lawsuit that was filed a few months ago.”
“I don’t know what this brouhaha is all about,” he said.
The Met is not the Smithsonian
Later, he expounded further on this thought in a letter to the Huffington Post:
“Free admission was conceived of 150 years ago for an entirely government-subsidized institution, like the Smithsonian. There is no model for this kind of operation any more. The city contributes $10 million of a $240 million-dollar-budget. We rely on many crucial revenue streams to maintain our building, preserve, protect, exhibit, and publish our collections, and mount up to 25 shows a year. This lawsuit flies in the face of reality and the huge amount of responsibility and work we have in the service of our collections and our visitors.”
See Slideshow of Admittance Charges at other Museuems on The Huffington Post