The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a cultural behemoth that is closely watched by art institutions around the world, will reverse decades of tradition by charging mandatory admission for some visitors.
A policy in effect March 1 will partly roll back the Met’s longstanding admissions based on suggested donations. The change largely targets tourists and suburbanites living outside New York, who will have to pay $25 for an adult ticket. New Yorkers can continue paying whatever they choose—the suggested amount is $25—though now they will have to present proof of residency in the city or state. Payment remains optional for students from New Jersey and Connecticut.
“Over the last 15 years, the admissions policy has effectively failed,” said
president and chief executive of the New York institution, which unveiled its new ticket policyThursday. “Excellence requires investment.”
Mr. Weiss called the current policy of suggested fees a “complicated sociological experiment” in which the museum let visitors—a record 7 millionat the Met’s three locations last year—decide how much to pay. The percent of adults contributing the full recommended amount fell from 63 percent in 2004 to just 17 percent today, he said.Attendance and the museum’s suggested donation amount have risen steadily over the years, but revenue from admissionshas remained flat. The average ticket donation is $9.
The Met calls itself the only institution of its size and scope that doesn’t receive a large amount of government funding and still relies exclusively on “pay as you wish” for admissionsrevenue. The Louvre in Paris charges roughly $18 for tickets purchased at the museum but admission is free for certain groups including European Union residents ages 25 and younger. London’s Tate Modern is free but special exhibitions cost extra. Many major museums in the U.S. charge admission, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, though others like the Menil Collection in Houston are free.
Mr. Weiss said admission will remain discounted, optional or free for roughly 70 percent of the Met’s visitors. Four in five of the adults required to pay the $25 ticket price will be on their first visit to New York or come to the city less than once a year, he said. Guests who pay full-price admission can visit the Met, the Met Breuer and the Met Cloisters for three consecutive days without additional charge. Senior and student discounts as well as free admission for small children remain unchanged.
The Met’s policy shiftcomes amid other belt-tightening and revenue-generating moves at the museum, which reported a $10 million operating deficit last year.In 2016, the museum cut its 2,200-person work force by 90 people through layoffs and voluntary departures. The Met has been revamping its retail operations and scaled back the number of exhibits from about 60 a year to 45 or 50.
The Met’s ticketing policyhas been a point of contentionin the past. In 2016, the museum faced lawsuits alleging its admissions language misled visitors into thinking that payment was mandatory. As a result, the museum changed signs from “recommended admission” to “suggested admission.”
Admissionsrevenue is now $42.7million, or about 14 percent of the Met’s$305 million budget. The museum projects its new admissions policy will bring that share as high as 17 percent, or roughly an additional $9 million. Because the museum sits on city-owned land, the change in policy had to be approved bythe city’s department of cultural affairs. Depending on the new strategy’s success, the city could cut up to $3 million of the roughly $28million it gives the museum each year.
Early in its history, the Met offered free admission on most days and charged onothers, and then later offered free admission but charged for special exhibitions. In 1970, the museum initiated its current admissions policy with a suggested donation of $1. Even then, though, visitors were slow to cough up cash, donating an average 65 cents per person.
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