Are art museums becoming too expensive for the average joe? Theodore Grunewald and Patricia Nicholson would definitely say, “yes.” The two museum-goers have recently filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court against the Metropolitan Museum of Art claiming that the historically free museum is “deceiving” visitors into paying admission fees.
Grunewald and Nicholson’s lawyers argue that the MET is committing consumer fraud and is acting against the museum’s 1893 “pay as you wish” law. Though I feel the truth of this argument is slightly stretched, as you can clearly see below, it does say “recommended” on the sign. However, it is admittedly small and the wording “recommended,” is somewhat unclear…”recommended” what? The lawsuit even conducted a survey of 360 visitors and found that 85% of them didn’t know the museum was free, proving that there is some sort of miscommunication going on. All problems probably could be solved if the words “pay as you wish” replaced “recommended,” on the MET’s signage, but most likely the museum’s choice of vagueness is to coerce people into paying the rather steep $25 entrance fee. With the lawsuit Grunewald and Nicholson seek to banish the MET’s entrance fee as well as reopen the Central Park entrance; which they stated was closed by the museum to limit the number of ticket takers it had to employ, yet again proving the museum’s aim to maximize profit at the expense of customer convenience and accessibility (how many of you have waited an annoying amount of time in line at the MET? I’m raising my hand).
As a lover of the arts and the museum, I disagree with Grunewald and Nicholson’s request to rid the museum of an entrance fee, because I would like to support the arts in a way the U.S. government does not. With government money for the arts disappearing faster than hot cakes (remember the NEA), the museum should be permitted to ask for a donation from visitors. The problem with the MET is that it needs to make people aware that they can pay what they wish and make them comfortable doing so. Maybe if the person at the admission counter didn’t automatically ask me, “is $25 ok?,” I would be more comfortable donating what I could afford and not be embarrassed to say, “no $25 isn’t ok.” The MET is not the only institution guilty of staggering entrance fees. MoMA, MFA Boston, the Guggenheim, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Barnes Foundation, and The Whitney all have non-negotiable entrance fees ranging from $18-$25. Though there are other free and pay as you wish museums in NYC and across the country, the ones listed above are some of the best and to no surprise some of the most expensive.
By definition the museum is a “public institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value; also: a place where objects are exhibited;” nowhere in this definition is admission mentioned either way, but what is stated is that the museum is “public,” therefore the general public should be able to access it. With museum entrance fees, mandatory or recommended, reaching upwards of $25 and unemployment rates raising just as steadily, average joe just can’t afford to spend a day at the museum…