By Annie Muscat
Anyone who has visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue can attest to its grand monumentality and to the impressiveness of the extensive collection which spans globally over thousands of years. The site has remained an internationally-renowned cultural institution, alongside the Louvre, Museum of Modern Art, and Guggenheim, since its founding in 1870, but distinguishes itself from these other prestigious centers with its “pay-as-you-wish” policy. Since this policy’s instatement in 1970, the Met has served as one of the most accessible opportunities to experience art. However, beginning March 1, the suggested $25 admission will be mandatory for out-of-state visitors.
As a city-owned public space, the Met’s Fifth Avenue building is sustained by public funds and private donations. Yet changing economic conditions and the reallocation of public dollars have resulted in financial distress and the Met has found itself with a substantial deficit of about $10 million. While museum attendance has soared in the past decade, the amount of visitors who pay the full suggested price has decreased, with the average voluntary contribution being $9, according to the museum.
In response to these monetary strains, the Met has laid off staff and reduced the number of annual exhibitions. Daniel Weiss, the Met’s president and CEO, claimed that the decision for a mandatory admission price did not come easily. Apparently, the museum considered multiple other possible options including lowering admission price while making it mandatory for all visitors and charging extra for special exhibitions. Both of these potential changes were ultimately written off with access for New Yorkers in mind.
“The goal of the policy is to find a better balance for the institution,” Weiss told the Associated Press.
So, what will this new system look like? Met visitors will now have to prove they are New York residents with some form of ID (driver’s license, passport, IDNYC utility bill) in order to choose their price. Students with current New York, Connecticut, or New Jersey school IDs will also be allowed to pay what they want. Members receive free admission and individuals who come with multi-attraction tour groups have prepaid passes. A visitor who falls into none of these categories, projected to make up a mere 30 percent of museum visitors, must purchase a $25 ticket, which is valid for three consecutive days at all three of the Met locations—the main Fifth Avenue location, the Met Breuer on Madison Avenue, and the Cloisters in upper Manhattan.
The announcement has already faced significant backlash. There is no denying that a change is necessary for the Met to continuously thrive as an esteemed source of art and culture, but many believe that placing the burden on the public is unfair and reflects larger divisive issues. The Association of Art Museum Curators executive director disproves the change, arguing that the Met “…should be for everyone to visit and not just for people who can pay full price or are able to show an ID”. For centuries, the arts have been perceived as elitist. Recall the stereotype of a sea of ostentatiously dressed wealthy white people surrounded by ornate decoration at some sort of gala or auction, sipping champagne, trying desperately to impress each other with convoluted speech and gossip. Turning away people who cannot afford the $25 admission fee epitomizes the barrier between the privileged and the disadvantaged, insiders and outsiders.
Not only does the mandatory charge demonstrate how the art world continues to fuel this negative perception of pretentiousness and exclusivity, but it also represents the harmful privatization of public space. Keep in mind that the Met’s non-profit status means that it is already supported by tax dollars. This increasing control over creative cultural resources means that people are inadvertently forced to contribute to restriction. Imagine if you had to pay for access to a public library or to enjoy a public park. Arguably, an arts education is as important as literacy and recreation, but that’s a different debate altogether.
Contextually, this policy change comes at an especially politically charged time during which anti-immigrant attitudes plague the United States. In a conversation between the two chief art critics of the New York Times about the detrimental effects of the Met’s new mandatory fee, Holland Cotter expressed his uneasiness with museum-goers providing identification to determine their entrance cost, a process he pejoratively described as “carding procedures”.
“This potentially discriminates against a population of residents who either don’t have legal identification or are reluctant to show the identification they have,” said Cotter, “and it plays directly into the hands of the anti-immigrant sentiment that is now poisoning this country.”
It is crucial to think critically about circumstances even when they do not directly affect you. As New York students, we will not be subjected to the $25 fee (as long as you remember your Fordham ID), but this policy change greatly limits accessibility to a world renowned art collection for others. After all, art should be available for everyone, not just those with deep pockets.