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Is the Metropolitan Museum Free?

There are currently two lawsuits against the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, both demanding an injunction and signs
that clearly state the ticket price is a “suggested donation.”

The Met is once again being sued by unhappy “customers.”  Two Czech tourists and one museum member are accusing the Met admission signs are deceptive.  They argue that the Met’s signage advertising a $25 dollar fee is ambiguous and that the Met is deceiving the public, swindling the public out of $6 million each year.

This recent lawsuit follows a suit filed last November.  The cases are linked, both demanding an injunction that would require clear signage and both with representation from the law firm Weiss & Hiller.  The November case is still pending, and the new filing is bring added pressure.

Michael Hiller, lawyer for the plaintiffs, told Reuters: “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that, as reflected in the complaint filed today, Number 1, and overwhelming majority of people who visit the museum are completely fooled into believing that they are required to pay the museum’s admission fees; and Number 2, museum officials know all about it.”

In response to the recent lawsuit, Harold Holzer, Senior Vice President of External Affairs at the museum stated in an email:

The Met argues that the $25 admission fee funds public
educational programs that would not be possible if the
museum relied solely on government financing.

“It is really an extension of the same lawsuit– the same attorneys, another small group of complainants, and the same unsustainable charges.  The fact is, we clearly post our pay-what-you wish admission policy, we have not been free to the public for more than 30 years with the consent of the City, and we do unapologetically hope our visitors can pay as much as they afford.  The days of large city operating subsidies have long gone.  It costs the Museum some $41 for each visitor who comes through the door, and the generosity of those who come here helps to fund free visits by NYC school students, the largest art publishing program in America, a website that reaches tens of millions annually with are education, and no extra charges ever for special exhibitions– rather unique among our sister institutions who also receive city funding.  Free admission was conceived of 150 years ago for an entirely government-subsidized institution, like the Smithsonian.  There is no model for this kind of operation any more.  The city contributes $10 million of a $240 million-dollar-budget.  We rely of many crucial revenue streams to maintain our building, preserve, protect, exhibit, and publish our collections, and up to 25 shows a year.  This lawsuit flies in the face of reality and the huge amount of responsibility and work we have in the service of our collections and our visitors.”

While the admission to the Met is a “recommended” fee, Mr. Holzer pulls on the heart strings of the public and appeals to our sense of duty to pay for services received.  As the popular saying goes, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

For our coverage of the November lawsuit visit: The Met Admission Fee Under Attack.

Sources: “Visitors to Met Museum in NYC Sue Over Deceptive Admission Fee,” Reuters, March 5, 2013; “Met Museum Sued: Unhappy Patrons Take Arts Center to Court Over ‘Recommended’ Fees,” The Huffington Post, March 11, 2013.