The Metropolitan Museum charges only a suggested donation, but some say their practice is still illegal
The Metropolitan Museum is one of New York’s most visited and well-known cultural institutions, but the museum is coming under fire in a class action lawsuit against the museum’s unfair admissions policies. The museum’s suggested fee is $25, but according to the lawsuits filed against the museum in November and early March, The Met does not make it clear that the $25 is suggested. The plaintiffs also claim that the museum is not even allowed to charge a fee to the public, according to its lease with the city.
The lawsuit demands compensation for “refunds of millions of dollars fraudulently and unlawfully taken by the Museum in an illegal admission fees scheme.” But the Met only responded to the first set of allegations, and denied any claims.
“The concept of this museum was that the city was covering the costs of rent, securities and utilities so that every person can go in free as if they were a king or a baron,” said Arnold Weiss, the lead attorney on the case. “But instead of a museum for everyone, it has become an elite tourist attraction.”
The museum was built and funded by the city in 1872, and the lease agreement states that the city is responsible for the basic upkeep of the museum and that the museum “shall on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each week, and on all legal and public holidays except Sundays, be kept open and accessible to the public free of charge.”
The lease further states that “all professors and teachers of the public schools of the City of New York shall be admitted free of any charge.” In addition, according to the New York State Lease and Free Admission Statute of 1893, if the city pays for a public cultural institution, it has to be free to visitors.
However, according to Harold Holzer, the museum’s spokesperson, that lease is out of date, and has been so since the 1970s when the city and the museum amended its policies to make an entrance fee mandatory for visitors. The New
York City Department of Cultural Affairs did not respond in time to confirm which rule the museum has to abide by.
“The city pays for only five percent of operating expenses, but 100 years ago it was more like 40 percent,” said Holzer. “The thing that makes this painful, is in addition to being a pay-what-you-wish museum, which is unique, the Met also offers an amazing number of tours lectures childrens programs, at no extra cost.”
Pat Nicholson, who was one of the lead plaintiffs in the November lawsuit against the museum, believes that the museum is, and should be free.
“As far as I’m concerned we don’t get in free. New Yorkers give up the ability to get the rent income from a Central Park facility,” said Nicholson. “The Met only has to cover their administrative costs and things like that. The museum should just list the two days it can charge customers, or it should list clearly the four days that it is open for free.”
The museum’s signage states that the $25 is a suggested fee, but the words itself are small, according to some visitors,
and it is therefore difficult to discern whether or not the museum is actually free. In addition, on The Met’s website, visitors wishing to pay for tickets online must pay the $25, in order to receive a ticket.
“You have to really know that the fee is suggested because they don’t advertise it,” said Joseph Hufnageo, a teacher who was visiting with his school from Camden, Maine. “I always feel like a chump giving only $5, but we were only going for an hour, so she was nice about it.”
Arnold Weiss said that it is not uncommon, however, for visitors to be mistreated by museum employees for not paying the full $25. But there are still many tourists who want to support the museum, $25 and all.
“I’m definitely OK with still paying the $25, even if it’s not mandatory,” said Scott Herrick, who traveled to the museum with his wife’s school from North Carolina. “I want to give back to the museum.”
Trackback from your site.