The Met will charge out-of-state visitors admission for the first time in 50 years

Should a taxpayer-funded public good cost $25 to visit?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), in New York, United States, on October 15, 2017.  CREDIT: Manuel Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met), in New York, United States, on October 15, 2017. CREDIT: Manuel Romano/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Aspiring Claudia Kincaids are about to have a tougher time slipping into the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Starting March 1, reversing a 50-year policy, the Met will be charging a $25 admission fee for visitors from outside New York State. New Yorkers can still pay as they wish, but will need to provide an I.D. with proof of address.

Turns out the largest cultural institution on the face of the Earth is just like us: It’s struggling to “establish a reliable, annual revenue stream” following a stretch of financial hardship, the New York Times reports. Two years ago, the budget deficit of the museum was closing in on $40 million. According to Daniel Weiss, president and chief operating officer of the Met, that deficit is down to $10 million and the goal is to have that budget balanced by 2020. (You know, if we make it to 2020.)

Under the new policy, full-priced admission tickets will be good for three consecutive days at the Met’s three locations, including the Met Breuer and the Cloisters. Students from New Jersey and Connecticut can pay as New Yorkers do: Whatever they want, if anything. (It seems like an odd, kind of snobby move to only extend this kindness to bridge-and-tunnel scholars, but, sure.)

Attendance is up — at 7 million from 4.7 million 13 years ago — but the Met says visitors haven’t been paying the full “suggested amount,” also $25. The proportion of visitors who actually part with $25 is down to just 17 percent, less than a quarter of what it used to be. As the Times points out, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim already charge $25 for entry, “though, unlike the Met, they are not in city-owned buildings nor supported by taxpayer dollars.”


About that: The Met, at present, gets approximately $26 million from the city. Going forward, the $11 million of that sum currently used to offset operating costs will “reduce on a sliding scale after the first year,” the Times reports, “depending on how much incremental revenue the new admissions policy generates, with a cap at $3 million. The Met’s reduced portion of city funds will be redirected toward cultural institutions in underserved parts of the city.”

In completely unrelated news, Met board member David H. Koch — yes, of conservative Koch brothers fame — recently gifted the museum a plaza in his name that runs from 80th to 84th street along Fifth Avenue. It cost $65 million and he paid for the whole thing himself. His name is inscribed in huge, golden letters on both of the two big fountains in the plaza, a deeply unsubtle choice (but one that the president probably loves). When the plaza opened in 2014, art critic Deborah Solomon told WNYC that she would have preferred his name had gone indoors, perhaps in the lobby. “I don’t think the Met should be turned into an advertisement for him,” she said.

“[It] leads me to wonder about the civic good will behind — and institutional wisdom in accepting — another example of donor earmarking: the $65 million patron-inscribed fountains recently installed (and critically panned) at the Met,” New York Times chief art critic Holland Cotter writes. “If the museum’s figures are accurate, and the new mandatory policy for out of state visitors will bring in $6 million to $11 million a year in admissions revenue, [then] the money spent on [Koch’s] fountains would have covered that income for a decade.”


Aside from the annoyance news of the ticket pricing is bound to cause, critics of the Met’s decision stress that the Met is a public institution — it belongs to everyone, all of the time, and to create a barrier to entry is fundamentally at odds with the Met’s identity, purpose, and principles.

Roberta Smith, the Times chief art critic, has argued that “the Met’s fixed admissions reflect something widespread: the continual degrading and privatization of public space.”

She added,

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…

Pay as you wish is a principle that should be upheld and defended, a point of great pride. The city should be equally proud of it. No one else has this, although they should. It indicates a kind of attitude, like having the Statue of Liberty in our harbor. It is, symbolically speaking, a beacon.