New York's Met museum sued over 'recommended' $25 admission fee

 

New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York faces the possibility of tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue if a lawsuit over its allegedly misleading admissions policy succeeds.

The museum's "recommended" admission charges violate the terms of its lease with the city, according to a complaint filed on Nov. 14 in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

"The Met is as much the property of citizens as the trustees who manage the art inside," Theodore Grunewald, a trained architect and one of the suit's plaintiffs, said in an interview. "The Met has engaged in deceptive practices."

Harold Holzer, a Met spokesman, called the suit frivolous because the city approved the Met's policy. "I don't know what this brouhaha is all about," Holzer said.

Admission and membership fees totaled $64.8 million in the year ending in June 2012 — more than a quarter of operating revenue — according to the Met's annual report.

The museum recommends on signs above admissions desks that visitors pay $25 to enter, or $17 for those 65 or older and $12 for students. The Met sells advanced tickets on its website for the full "recommended" charge. It still accepts as little as a penny at museum ticket booths.

In an 1878 lease with the Department of Public Parks of the City, the museum agreed to admit everyone free four days each week in exchange for use of its land. The lease, which is attached to the complaint, was modified in 1892 and 1893, requiring free admission two evenings and five days a week, according to the complaint. Rent today would cost the museum about $368 million per year, according to the complaint.

Admission was free until the early 1970s, when the museum instituted a "voluntary 'pay what you wish — but you must pay something' admission policy," a 1993 museum bond offering prospectus said.

Recommended admission was introduced "during an era of sharply reduced municipal operating support," the Met said Nov. 21.

Danai Pointer, a spokesman for New York City's Department of Cultural Affairs, declined to comment. The $25 "recommended" fee covers about half of the approximately $45 "it actually costs the museum to welcome each and every visitor," according to the Met statement. Visitors — excluding members and employees of corporate members — pay an average of less than half of the $25 recommended admission, Holzer said.

A survey of more than 360 Met visitors by the plaintiffs found that 65 percent became members because they believed joining enabled them or a guest to enter free, according to the complaint. Three-quarters of those surveyed who weren't members said they believed that they paid an "admission fee," according to court papers.

"They're making them think they need to pay the full price when they don't need to pay any price," said Grunewald, who filed the suit with Patricia Nicholson.

Grunewald said he works as an archivist for a media company he declined to name. Nicholson lives across Fifth Avenue from the Met and co-founded the nonprofit Metropolitan Museum Historic District Coalition. The coalition a decade ago battled the museum and city over an expansion it said would increase congestion and pollution.

Although State Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman ruled in 2004 that the statute of limitations expired before the coalition's challenge, Nicholson said in an interview that it had successfully pressured the Met to limit its work.

In the Nov. 14 complaint, the plaintiffs asked the court to order the museum to stop charging admission on free days, to inform the public that free days are available, and to make changes to signs and promotional materials to prevent visitors from being misled about the policy.

They also seek to have a museum entrance fronting Central park. There had been a park entrance until 1902.

"Any impact on the people across the street would probably be reduced," Arnold Weiss, a lawyer for Nicholson and Grunewald, said of the effect of new crowds at the museum.

As for the shortfall from eliminating recommended admissions, Grunewald called on wealthy trustees to increase donations and the Met to rethink its priorities, including a $65 million reconstruction of its outdoor plaza.

"At a time when working people are hurting, $25 is a hardship for anyone but the upper middle class," he said.

"It's like a fine piece of music that you want to hear again," Grunewald said of the Met. "It requires repeated visits."

 

— With assistance from Christie Smythe in New York.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Sport
football
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?