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The Met Admission Fee Under Attack

On November 14, 2012, Theodore Grunewald and Patricia Nicholson, two members of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met), started legal action against the Museum for misleads the general public and deceiving visitors that the admission fees were mandatory and not suggested.  Full adult fee to enjoy the Met’s riches is a whooping $25 and a vast majority of the museum visitors do not know that they are not required to pay so much to enjoy the collections. Plaintiffs apparently surveying more than 350 visitors about the museum’s admission options learned that about 85% did not realize they did not have to pay a full fee to enter.  In light of these findings and other facts, Plaintiffs are seeking an injunction that would prevent the Met from charging fees.

Plaintiffs argue that the current practices are in violation of “the 1893 law that requires the taxpayer-funded museum to be open free to the public for five days and at least two nights per week. … The Museum was designed to be open to everyone, without regard to their financial circumstances—a public library of art and culture to enrich the lives of the citizenry…” It seems that the Met’s original lease required the museum to allow free access to visitors on certain days but in the 1970s, modified city policies allowed Met to institutes a voluntary admission fee instead. The righteous outrage that motivates Plaintiffs is understandably. However, the museum’s price current sign does include the word ‘recommended’ in small type, even though there is a palpable expectation that visitors better pay the full recommended amount. 

Whether the suit is frivolous or not shall be revealed in due time. In the mean time, New York visitors and residents should carry on seeing current exhibitions and permanent collections and not feel obligated to pay $25.

———The Press Relewas on the Suit Below —————
For Immediate Release
November 14, 2012


The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been sued for charging unlawful admission fees and committing consumer fraud, according to a 44-page complaint filed with the New York State Supreme Court earlier today. An 1893 statute requires that the Museum, which receives millions of dollars in annual taxpayer-funded subsidies, remain open and free to the general public five days and two evenings per week. And the Museum’s lease requires that the free days include Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and legal and public holidays. But the Museum has been charging admission fees every day and evening. According to the Museum, the admission fee is merely “recommended,” but the complaint cites to a survey of more than 360 visitors to the Museum, and 85% believed that they were required to pay a fee to go inside.

The Museum charges $25 per adult for entry into the Museum. Consequently, a family of four is required to pay entry Fees up to $100. Although signs at the cashiers indicate in fine and tiny print that the Fee is “recommended,” few notice it, as the large bold-print references admission fees payable for adults, seniors and children. And, in any event, the Museum’s official policy is that, regardless of the signage referencing in small print that the fees are recommended, no one is permitted to enter without paying.

In addition, a half-dozen Museum-sponsored websites specify the admission fees and fail to mention the public’s entitlement to enter for free. As a result, people are defrauded into paying fees that, according to New York State law and the Museum’s lease, cannot be charged.
“It’s an absolute travesty,” commented Patricia Nicholson, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The Museum was designed to be open to everyone, without regard to their financial circumstances — a public library of art and culture to enrich the lives of the citizenry. But instead, the Museum has been converted into an elite tourist attraction to be enjoyed only by those who can afford to pay expensive and illegal admission fees.”

Michael Hiller, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, commented that the evidence of the Museum’s violation of New York law is a absolutely clear “The statute and lease require that the Museum be free of charge to the general public five days a week, but it’s the Museum’s policy that no one can enter without paying a fee. The Museum’s violation of the law and breach of the lease could hardly be more blatant. But more than the violation of the lease and statute, the Museum’s illegal admission fee policy violates the public trust.”

As for consumer fraud, Arnold Weiss, who also represents the plaintiffs, commented that “the survey erases any doubt that the Museum’s deceptive signs and websites are intended to mislead people, and they do just that.” Mr. Weiss also emphasized that “this is not a situation in which just a few people didn’t understand; the overwhelming majority of visitors, with degrees ranging from high school to post-graduate, and tourists as well as native New Yorkers, all think that they are required to pay fees to enter the Museum.”

According to publicly-available documents, the Museum has collected more than $600 Million in admission fees over the years. And that figure doesn’t even include the monies collected by the Museum from people who purchased ‘memberships,’ the principal feature of which (according to the Museum) is to avoid paying the admission fees — which the Museum isn’t allowed to charge anyway. Meanwhile, the Museum receives taxpayer funding, plus the use of the city-owned Museum Building and the land in Central Park on which it is situated, all rent-free.

The lawsuit seeks, among other things, an injunction preventing any further violations of the Museum’s lease and New York law, and the Museum’s efforts at deception, plus attorneys’ fees. Plaintiffs have also asked for an order directing the Museum to reopen the Central Park entrance, which was closed in an effort by the Museum to avoid duplicating the cost of staffing those who collect the admission fees which the Museum is prohibited from charging in the first place.

Source: The New York Times; The New York Post.