Live tweets from the Association of Art Museum Directors meeting in New Orleans last night revealed that Detroit Art Institute director, Graham Beal, was going public with news of a “grand bargain” between city mediators and a number of interested national and local foundations, including the Kresge Foundation, The Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as well as the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.
The news, breaking since December amidst rumors and paranoia, came just hours before headlines in The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News announced that negotiations, while still in progress, and still entangled in some sticky complications, seemed to be promising some dramatic relief in the form of some $300 — $500 million dollars.
Oddly, Beal was paraphrased in AAMD’s tweets as stating that DIA itself had been locked out of negotiations and had little to do with the deals:
Tweeted @MuseumDirectors, “Beal: @DIADetroit has had very little to do w/negotiations. They have happened around us; I have never met the Emergency Manger #AAMDNOLA”
The plan to leverage foundation support has been largely driven by U.S. District Court chief judge Gerald Rosen, the Mediator in the Detroit bankruptcy case, who called the foundations together this fall to discuss solutions for saving DIA’s collections and supporting pensioner’s claims. Ford Foundation CEO, Darren Walker, has also been cited as a booster, bringing other foundations on board.
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.”
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)
“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.”